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Cubs’ starters look forward to friendly competition at the plate this season

“I’m hoping that a couple of our other guys would be able to hit some balls over the fence. It’s always fun to see a pitcher hit a homer,” starter Jake Arrieta said.

John Antonoff/Chicago Sun-Times

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs pitchers have taken a fun approach to returning to the batter’s box for the first time in over a year. With the universal designated hitter likely returning next season, 2021 will likely be the final year of pitchers hitting in the National League.

That’s not stopping the Cubs’ starters from making the most of their plate appearances both on and off the field and having friendly competition amongst each other to see which pitcher reigns supreme.

“We’re trying to figure out the categories,” right-hander Jake Arrieta said. it’s probably going to be bunts, hits, home runs, walks, and a combination of a couple other things to keep it fun, keep it competitive and see where we stack up at the end of the season.

“I’m hoping that a couple of our other guys would be able to hit some balls over the fence. It’s always fun to see a pitcher hit a homer. But yeah, we’ve talked about [having a prize] and keeping it fun and competitive.

Arrieta has proven to be one of the league’s best-hitting pitchers during his 11-year career with 16 career extra-base hits, including six home runs. The 35-year-old right-hander won the National League Silver Slugger Award for pitchers in 2016.

But while Arrieta is confident in his abilities to get things done at the plate, some of the Cubs other starters are more aware of their weaknesses with the bat. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks singled in his first at-bat of the spring, but had some trouble on the bases colliding with the first baseman, so it’s likely a work in progress.

“It took a little bit to get back into the swing of things, timing-wise and all that,” Hendricks said. “You’re just trying to give yourself a chance up there. If they’re gonna make it part of the game, we got to work on it and be as good as we can be. You never know when you’re gonna come up with guys on base. Obviously, the focus is getting bunts down, so that’s what we’re working on a lot. But yeah, the ability to swing it. If you can swing the bat, it’s going to keep you in games longer and pitch deeper. So it’s definitely just something I need to work on.”

“I am confident in my abilities to get a bunt down. Jake is the one pushing it,” starter Trevor Williams said with a laugh. “I mean, he’s got a Silver Slugger and I have zero extra base hits. He’s like, ‘We should do a first homer prize’ and I’m like, ‘It’s a donation from me because it’s not happening.’ ... My main goal is get the bunt down and don’t strike out. Like that’s really all I can all I can ask for.”