SAN DIEGO — We’ve heard from his agent, his manager and the pitcher himself, so maybe it’s time to hear from the opposition, someone who has actually hit a home run off Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta.
Ten have done it so far this year, the same number he gave up when he won the Cy Young Award in 2015. Back then, he was throwing 94-95 mph. Now he’s averaging below 93 mph, though Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez says it shouldn’t matter as long as he’s locating his pitches.
“More than anything, I think he hears all the chatter and starts trying to throw harder and loses command,” Gonzalez said last Friday after he homered off Arrieta, his first homer of the season. “So many people want to talk about velocity, but if he commands his velo, it’s (his effectiveness) still there. It’s electric, it’s moving. He fell behind on me, so had to throw a strike. The stuff is still there. The breaking pitches are there.”
Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, indicated similar thoughts over the weekend. Arrieta should be able to have success with a lower velocity if he can just locate his pitches better. Gonzalez was even more adamant about it.
“The way society is now and the way this game has gone, everyone is worried about the velocity and the exit speed,” Gonzalez said. “They think that’s the recipe for success. Success is making pitches.
“To us hitters, velocity doesn’t mean anything unless you’re throwing 110 mph. He got behind me and had to throw a strike, that’s all. We see 92-98 mph every day.”
The other side of the argument revolves around the idea that Arrieta was used to getting away with mistakes when he was throwing 95-96 mph, but now has to be more accurate at 92-93. So far, he hasn’t completely adjusted to his new normal, so a pitch that misses has been hit out.
“What makes [Cubs ace Jon] Lester and [Dodgers ace Clayton] Kershaw so good? The fact they keep the ball down and away all the time,” Gonzalez said. “They don’t make mistakes or leave anything over the plate.”
Arrieta takes the mound again Wednesday when the visiting Cubs attempt to avoid a sweep at the hands of the lowly San Diego Padres. He’s seemingly in the right ballpark against the right team to keep the ball from leaving the yard, but the way things are going right now, there is no sure thing for him or the Cubs. Gonzalez said he thinks Arrieta is better than his 4.92 ERA would indicate and stressed that Arrieta needn’t worry about his velocity.
“I think he tries to throw harder so people won’t talk about the velocity, and he loses command,” Gonzalez said. “If all you hear about is that, maybe you think you need to be throwing harder, that way you can stop answering questions about it. Why am I answering questions about it? See?”