MESA, Ariz. – Cubs ace Jake Arrieta soaked his blistered thumb in Neosporin overnight Thursday and called Friday “business as usual” for his prep work toward his final spring training and start and eventually his April 4 Opening Day assignment.
But the reigning National League Cy Young winner’s easy confidence was tempered by manager Joe Maddon, who wasn’t so sure about Arrieta’s status for the opener.
If Arrieta can’t go, last year’s Opening Day starter, Jon Lester – who pitched five scoreless innings against he Brewers Friday – would be next up, the manager said.
“Blisters can be funny,” Maddon said Friday morning. “Right now we haven’t called off the jam yet. But I’d say we’ll look at it after another day or two and try to make our best determination at that point.
“They can become more chronic, and you don’t want that to happen. Opening Day is very prestigious. However, so’s winning the World Series. You definitely want to make the right call.”
Arrieta continued to downplay the issue Friday, as he did Thursday when he was pulled from his start in the first inning after seven batters and 34 pitches.
“It won’t be a problem at all,” he said, describing it as dry, cracked skin and blaming Arizona’s dry climate. “It’s just about managing it. And obviously once we get out of Arizona it will no longer be an issue at all.”
The bigger issue, Maddon said, is getting his pitch count high enough before his first start. Thursday’s start was scheduled to be his high-count start of the spring, with Tuesday’s scheduled final start as the lower-count tune-up for the season.
If he has to be pushed back, Lester, who has allowed one earned run in his last two starts (10 innings), said he’s ready if needed.
“If it’s a day sooner, then we’ll make an adjustment,” said Lester, who said Friday’s “grinder” probably “looked a lot better than it was.”
Lester said he’s not counting on a schedule change after talking with Arrieta Friday morning.
“Hopefully, everything heals up fine, and we don’t have to alter anything, and we just stay on course,” he said.
Theoretically, Arrieta has one extra day of wiggle room between now and the opener (he was to get an extra day’s rest).
“I would say he needs to get a legitimate amount of stretching out between now and [the opener] for us to feel comfortable with it,” Maddon said. “[Saturday] and the next day is going to be more insightful.”
Lester calls blisters an occupational hazard that pitchers often find a way to pitch through.
“We’ve all dealt with blisters at some point, or cuts or just things you have to alter or figure out how to make your next start with,” he said. “I’m right there with Jake as far as the dry skin aspect of it. Luckily, it’s been OK this spring for me.
“It’s just kind of the nature of the beast, and you just try to figure out ways to maintain it and not let it get to where it’s an open wound and can be an even bigger issue during your start.”
Arrieta, of course, is the most critical piece to the Cubs’ playoff puzzle this season, which magnifies the significance of even minor ailments.
“I understand it,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, it’s really not an issue.
“It’s in a good place. We’re in a good spot.”