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All-Star break ideal for Arrieta, who needs to reduce free passes

Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta says not picking up a ball for four days was exactly what he needed. His next start is Tuesday against the Mets at Wrigley Field. | Gene J. Puskar/AP

There’s a reason players get to vote for the All-Star Game. They recognize and respect excellence in their profession.

And they express that admiration when they can, as Cubs star Jake Arrieta did last week in San Diego with his National League counterparts.

‘‘I talked to a lot of the guys,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘Pretty much every one of them expressed how much they loved watching me throw, how much appreciation they have for what I was able to do last year and even this year. The outreach is pretty cool, and it’s reciprocated from me.

‘‘Obviously, [Clayton] Kershaw, [Madison] Bumgarner, Jose Fernandez, guys you play against a lot and really like to watch, experiencing that week with them together was cool because we got to talk about things.’’

Even better, Arrieta didn’t have to pitch. He was able to soak up the All-Star atmosphere without having to throw, exactly the ‘‘medicine’’ the 2015 Cy Young Award recipient believes he needed.

It’s not that anything is ‘‘wrong,’’ Arrieta said. But he knows his most recent starts have not matched the compelling stretch he had from last July to the first months this season.

Not that any pitcher could maintain that pace.

‘‘Listen, last year, the run I went on was great,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘Would everybody like to pitch that way all the time? Yes. Being realistic, no matter how good you are and how well you’ve pitched in the past, there are going to be times that you’re just not at your best.

‘‘It just happened to come in a three-start stretch where I gave up four, five and six [runs], so it didn’t look great. I wasn’t happy with it.

‘‘But from my perspective, I want to continue to do what I’ve been doing in between starts and iron out some things, find the rhythm, find the timing and transition that into the game.’’

Arrieta, who hasn’t pitched since July 8 and won’t start again until Tuesday, thinks he has the formula again thanks to the time off. Manager Joe Maddon is counting on it.

‘‘From his perspective,’’ Maddon said, ‘‘he’d just like to get back to where he had been. I think this rest will benefit him. You look at his numbers — they’re pretty darn good.

‘‘I’ve been saying this for a bit, but I know there’s another level to Jake.’’

For now, finding the way to reduce walks — and, consequently, his pitch counts — is a goal.

‘‘It’s just being more efficient early in counts,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘I’m not typically a high-walk guy, so in a three- or four-start stretch, giving up three-plus walks is not ideal. That just wastes 20-25 pitches, and that’s something that gets you out of a game two innings early.

‘‘Being more efficient in counts, minimizing the free passes is what I’m looking forward to doing.’’

Attacking the strike zone without ‘‘nibbling at the corners’’ is the mental part to master again, he said.

‘‘We all get into that sometimes where you get two quick outs, and next thing you know, it’s a 3-0 count [on the next batter],’’ Arrieta said.

‘‘Not picking up a ball for four days was exactly what I needed. I picked up a ball for the first time in four or five days and threw the best bullpen I have all year.

‘‘We’re still pitching pretty well, and we have guys in the rotation who are pitching really well. We just look to kind of pass the baton to the next guy and let him go out and do his thing. And that’s what I anticipate seeing in the second half.’’

Follow me on Twitter @toniginnetti.