LOS ANGELES — When asked Friday about the biggest difference between Jake Arrieta last year and this year, manager Joe Maddon immediately mentioned velocity: “a couple miles an hour.”
But even before his return to historically Jake-friendly Dodger Stadium — and coming off one of his better starts of the season —
Arrieta made it clear he’s getting tired of hearing that his fastball has lost something this year.
“We’ve got to stop talking about velocity,” he said, “because it just has no bearing. This is the big leagues. It doesn’t matter.
“Kyle [Hendricks] throws 87. I throw 92, 93, 94. It doesn’t matter. You watch how Kyle dominates a lineup with 86, 88 and a really good changeup. It’s more focus on command and changing speeds.”
Arrieta’s velocity actually was as good Friday as it had been all year, reaching 95 mph for the second game this season.
But neither that nor the powers of California were enough to prevent two more home runs in a 4-0 loss to the Dodgers in the opener of a six-game west-coast trip.
It’s hard to say whether Arrieta is getting more tired of talking about his velocity or more tired of actually waiting for it to return.
Less difficult to identify is the troubling trend of especially hard contact when he misses in the zone. Chase Utley’s leadoff homer to center in the third and Adrian Gonzalez’s two-run shot in the sixth — his first homer of the season — were the ninth and 10th allowed by Arrieta (5-4) this season.
That matches his total for his 2015 Cy Young season and is just six shy of last season’s total. And it’s still May.
If there ever was an antidote for Arrieta’s 4.92 ERA, this road trip through Los Angeles and San Diego looked like the right prescription.
Since the start of 2014, Arrieta was 7-1 with a 0.95 ERA in eight starts at five California ballparks before his start Friday.
“It’s a good place to pitch,” Arrieta said of California, where he also pitches the final game of the trip Wednesday in San Diego. “Especially now with the weather we’ve dealt with, it’s going to be nice to get out there. I think we’ll get a little boost from that, after what we’ve dealt with, with all the delays and rainouts [during the recent homestand]. As much as we all love Chicago, I think we’re all about tired of all this rain.”
Arrieta, a free agent at the end of the year, was in search of his own personal sunshine out west, too.
Arrieta expected to get together informally with his agent, Scott Boras, who was at Friday night’s game but not because there’s anything new with his contract status or shelved discussions with the Cubs.
If anything, the only change in potential status as a pending free agent has been about the inconsistent start to his season.
“I’m making progress,” Arrieta said. “It’s not perfect. I don’t think it really ever is. It’s just a constant work in progress. But [last Sunday against Milwaukee] my timing was ideal.”
He didn’t give up an earned run in six innings against the Brewers.
“I want to try to [back that up] and then in San Diego build off that and just try and find that comfort zone and lock it in, for however long you can,” he said. “And if it leaves you for awhile, you just work to get it back and continue to move in the right direction, whichever way that is for an individual.
“For me, it’s simply finding the timing and trying to be as consistent with that as possible.”
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