SAN DIEGO – Maybe it’s the time of year. Maybe it’s the beaches and marinas.
But there was Cubs ace Jake Arrieta looking once again like a no-hit threat on a West Coast mound, dominating the San Diego Padres for eight scoreless innings Tuesday night in a 5-3 victory that was only that close because of bullpen drama in the ninth.
“That was really reminiscent of last year,” said manager Joe Maddon of the right-hander’s historic finish to his 2015 Cy Young season.
Arrieta (16-5) gave up only a second-inning single until a two-out double in the eighth Tuesday – striking out six along the way in what amounted to a campaign ad for another Cy Young Award.
With his fourth consecutive victory, he took over sole possession of the National League lead in wins, moved up to fourth in the NL in ERA (2.62), has a WHIP of barely 1.00, and opponents are hitting .183 against him (best among MLB starters).
“The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff’s the same, and the numbers are fabulous,” Maddon said. “It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year.
“If he gets hot over this last couple weeks, you could see more of just what you saw tonight.”
If he stayed out west the rest of the way, he might not lose again.
Over the last two seasons, Arrieta has done more damage in California than the San Andreas Fault – going 6-0 with one run allowed in 45 innings (0.20 ERA) over six starts in the state.
That included his no-hitter in Los Angeles a year ago next week.
Arrieta attributed Tuesday’s dominance more to the moment than the geography.
“I think it just came at a good time,” said Arrieta, who walked the leadoff man in the first, watched him advance to third on a grounder and a stolen base – but escaped when catcher Willson Contreras picked him off third.
“That kind of set the tone,” said Arrieta. “From that point on I was really able to command the strike zone for the most part with the sinking fastball and mixing some good off-speed pitches.”
By the time Kris Bryant hit his fifth homer in six days and Addison Russell added his fourth in three days, the only question was whether Arrieta would finish what he started, and how few hits he’d allow.
He didn’t get the chance to finish when Maddon pulled the plug on his start after 99 pitches and eight innings. A year ago he might have been allowed to finish.
“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” said Arrieta, who has admitted fatigue was a factor in the decline in sharpness in his final two playoff starts last October. “But at the same time, he came over to me and said, `Hey, just remember last year, and let’s conserve some things for October and the end of September.’
“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October – mid-October – is really the most important time for us as a ballclub, as an organization.
“So, could I have finished the game? Yes. But does it play in our favor to maybe conserve for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. And I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations, and that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”
Heyward confident in playoff ability
After hitting his first homer of August in his return to the lineup Monday, struggling outfielder Jason Heyward wasn’t looking far enough down the road to consider the playoffs or whether his performance down the stretch will influence his playing status in October.
“I’m not worried about six weeks. I’m worried about tomorrow,” said Heyward, whose season-long slump led to a four-day stretch on the bench until Monday. “Playoff-wise, my teammates know I can help this team win. My manager, my coaches – I know I can help this team win. That’s the bottom line.”
After going 1-for-4 with the two-run shot Monday, he was hitting .225 with six home runs in the first year of his eight-year, $184 million deal.
A light throwing session went well enough Tuesday that veteran starter John Lackey (shoulder) could be on track for a bullpen session this weekend in Los Angeles.
Lackey’s eligible to return from the disabled list next week at home. He’s expected to be activated soon after the roster expands Sept. 1, barring a setback.
“I don’t think it’s going to take him a whole lot of time to get ready to come back,” Maddon said. “If he’s able to [a bullpen] without any discomfort his start won’t be too far to follow that.”
Quality in eye of beholder
After earning a share of the major-league lead in quality starts with No. 20 on Monday night, Jon Lester seemed unimpressed with the achievement – especially after being irritated he was taken from his start in the seventh.
“I don’t really like quality starts,” he said. “I think it’s kind of a made-up stat that helps guys that don’t go deep into ballgames. I think that quality starts should go to the seventh inning more so than the sixth inning.”
Bryzzo Co. souvenir for boys
Bryant, who went to school a few miles from Petco Park at the University of San Diego, had a huge contingent of USD coaches and alumni at Tuesday’s game — and came up big, with his second homer in as many games in the series.
“They were somewhere in left field,” Bryant said. “I was trying to hit it to them.”