NEW YORK — So much for Jake Arrieta’s “easy fix.”
So much for that start in the All-Star Game while he’s at it.
The National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner struggled again Saturday in New York, falling behind the first eight hitters he faced, ringing up a high pitch count early and losing 4-3 to the Mets – the 2015 nemesis that has left fingerprints and footprints on the Cubs’ throats for the last three nights.
“It was a poor performance on my end,” said Arrieta, who lost for the third time in six starts – after going undefeated for 24 straight since last July. “The command wasn’t great. The stuff wasn’t very good. I needed to be more of a stopper, to put a stop to the bleeding.”
Instead, he gave up two quick runs on a walk and home run to the first two batters he faced, then gave up a double to the third as he labored through a 35-pitch first inning.
By the time a single, two-out walk and bloop double scored two more against him in the fourth, the fluky nature of those two runs was of little consolation.
“It’s frustrating for me, just because I expect a lot more out of myself,” said Arrieta, whose ERA rose from a third-in-the-NL 2.10 to 2.33 on a night he lasted just three batters into the sixth. “To let it continue for three, four starts is not something that I like to see happen.”
Even with the recent struggles, Arrieta was poised for a possible – even likely – starting assignment in the July 12 All-Star Game.
A victory would have given him a National League-leading 13 – in front of Mets manager Terry Collins, who will make the decision as the NL team’s skipper.
And with Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list, and the Giants looking at pushing Madison Bumgarner to the Sunday before the break – which, by rule, takes him out of the All-Star Game – the path to the mound for the first pitch of the midsummer classic was wide open.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon had talked with Collins twice about that possibility, including Friday.
But that was the last thing on Arrieta’s mind by the time he was done making a third consecutive high-pitch, short-inning start.
“I just didn’t have good timing tonight. I didn’t have really good velocity. It was just a weird day,” he said. “One of those days where you feel like the ball’s coming out, but it’s not. It’s one of those handful of starts where you don’t have much but you still need to find a way to win.”
It’s been a recurring theme for the Cubs’ ace, who has pitched 5 1/3 innings or less in seven of 13 starts since his April 21 no-hitter.
Since the end of May he’s 3-3 with a 4.05 ERA and 17 walks (19 Ks) in 33 1/3 innings.
And in his last two starts alone, he has walked seven and given up 12 hits and nine runs in 10 1/3 innings. Six of the seven walks he allowed came around to score.
He said it’s as simple as first-pitch strikes instead of falling behind early, of getting more aggressive in the strike zone. But it hasn’t looked that easy.
“At times I expect so much more of myself I might press a little bit from time to time, he said. “I’ve said it before, but it really is true: The adjustment is very small.”
Neither he nor Maddon say they’ve reached the point of being concerned.
“If he was injured, I would be more concerned,” Maddon said. “But he’s not injured.”
He’s also not pitching deep enough in games to ease the strain on a bullpen that has struggled much of the last month.
He said he was reminded at times Saturday “that average stuff still gets outs at this level. So maybe I’ll take some of the pressure off myself and just throw it – just go out there and let it go.”
Whatever the cure, the Cubs could use it quickly. A beat-up lineup failed again repeatedly against good Mets pitching – scoring just eight runs in the three losses heading into the finale of the four-game series.
After going 0-for-16 with men in scoring position the first two games, the Cubs only had one at-bat in that situation against Bartolo Colon (7-4) and the Mets pen – bring the total, of course, 0-for-17.
They’ve lost nine of their last 13.
“I’m resilient. I’ll bounce back,” Arrieta (12-3) vowed. “I’ll get to the point where I was early in the season and last year, soon. This won’t continue. It’s frustrating it’s been this long a period.
“But we’ll make it right.”