SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Cubs ace Jake Arrieta said the nature of the blister he suffered on the thumb of his pitching hand Thursday against the Giants is no big deal.
But the nature of the Cubs’ Cy Young Award winner’s significance, and the nature of their season means there’s no such thing as no big deal this year.
So when Arrieta left his spring start against the Giants in the first inning Thursday, looking at his hand while flexing it as he disappeared into the dugout, you could hear the alarm bells going off in Chicago from Scottsdale Stadium.
“Of course,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We don’t want to lose him. We don’t want to miss him. But I don’t really think it’s anything awful. I’ve had guys with blisters before, and sometimes you’ve just got to back off him for a couple of days to give it a chance to really heal up.”
Maddon said he doesn’t think the issue will affect Arrieta’s status for Opening Day, just over a week away, but he didn’t rule out the possibility.
“If we have to make an adjustment, we’ll make an adjustment,” he said. “I’m not worried. For me it’s just about good health with him, and that’s it.”
“It’s really not that bad,” said Arrieta, who gave up four straight hits, then back-to-back walks before manager Joe Maddon had seen enough and pulled him before chancing a break and bleeding of the blister.
“It’s just something I need to give a few days and let the skin harden around it, and try to get that thing out of there,” Arrieta said. “Physically everything’s fine.”
Except for the tender spot on the critical thumb attached to the golden arm that is the Cubs’ best shot at the pennant.
Arrieta, who last year became the first pitcher in major league history with a sub-1.00 ERA in his final 20 starts (0.86), said he plans to make his final exhibition start as scheduled Tuesday before starting the opener six days later.
He said he had a blister in a different spot on the thumb last week.
“And two days after that, I was able to throw a bullpen [session] fine with no problem, and this is actually in a better position than it was last time,” he said. “We’re not in any trouble of missing any time or having to be skipped or anything.”
Arrieta had Super Glue covering the blister, which helped keep it from splitting. And that made his command worse because he couldn’t apply enough pressure on the ball without it slipping. He said he’ll use something different next time..
By leaving the game when he did, he sped the healing process because he was maybe 10 to 15 pitches away from the blister opening up.
Arrieta, whose first start this spring was pushed into the second week of games as the Cubs monitor his workload, threw only 34 pitches Thursday. But he said he feels his arm strength is built up well enough in relation to the start of the season.
He anticipates throwing more pitches in his between-starts side session this weekend. “Just to kind of make up for some of what was lost today,” he said. “At the same time there’s no harm in getting a slight breather [Thursday]. I’ll still get out there [Friday] and probably throw a good flat-ground [session], and the following day throw an extended side to prepare for Tuesday.
“It’s not really a setback.”
That doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal. If only because of the pitcher the thumb is attached to.
When Arrieta took off last year, so did the Cubs, all the way to 97 wins. He remained dominant through the one-game wild-card playoff. But when he admittedly fatigued in his final two playoff starts, the Cubs went out quickly against the Mets.
He was already a subject of greater focus this year, both for his importance as well as the fact his 248 2/3 innings last year (including playoffs) exceeded his career high by 72.
“We’ll know more in a couple of days,” Maddon said. “One of those things where you just have to wait and see.”