Jake Arrieta is proving to be an ace in more ways than one for his Cubs teammates.
On the field, the right-handed pitcher has been one of the few bright spots in a depleted rotation. Off the field, he's the team's go-to source for restaurant recommendations.
"[My wife and I] tend to be pretty critical of food—not in a bad way," he said. "I like to tell [the team] about the restaurants I've discovered here, pass them along to them so they can experience them, take their families out for a nice meal."
The laid-back 28-year-old, who doesn't mention that he pitches for the Cubs in his Twitter bio, said the key to a good meal isn't necessarily the food itself, though that certainly helps.
"What I like to do is tell the server, 'Hey, we like to socialize the entire meal, so bring small plates every 10-15 minutes and we don't care what you bring, just keep the food coming,'" he said. "I feel like that's the best way to enjoy a meal, especially when you plan on telling stories and socializing throughout dinner. Avec and Nico [Osteria] are two places that allow you to have meals like that."
If his restaurant recommendations are as on point as his pitching, his teammates would be wise to heed his advice. In his first full season with the Cubs, Arrieta has established himself as their most dominant starting pitcher.
In 15 starts, Arrieta has compiled a 5-2 record with a sparkling 2.18 ERA and 99 strikeouts. He's also come close to throwing a no-hitter more than once. And to hear Arrieta tell it, he wouldn't be surprised if he put together a few more no-hit bids this season.
"The only thought process I have when I'm on the mound is executing each pitch as its own individual game, winning that pitch and winning the next pitch," he said. "If I'm able to execute 90 out of 100 pitches, I feel like I'll be able to be in situations like that, I wouldn't say on a regular basis, but I don't think it would surprise me at all if I'm able to do something like that a few times a year."
It's a far cry from where he was when he came to Chicago in July 2013 after a trade with Baltimore. At the time of the deal, his numbers for the Orioles were horrific (1-2, 7.23 ERA).
Since arriving at the Friendly Confines, it's been a different story. Arrieta has gone 9-4 as a Cub with a 2.71 ERA, firmly establishing himself not only as the ace of this season's rotation but as a franchise cornerstone. So what's been the key to his turnaround?
"Just really being able to clear my mind mentally and take charge of the things I've needed to focus on the most, really get better in those areas, refine certain things," he said. "At the end of the day it's about knowing what I'm capable of doing and letting it out on the field."
With age comes maturity, after all.
"For me, it's taken some time to really understand which aspects of my game are most vitally important," he said. "A lot of it is through trial and error, a lot of it is through your failures that you have at this level. It's been a long, difficult process, but it's rewarding when you start to reap the benefits."
Despite all the expectations, Arrieta said he's not feeling any extra pressure.
"No, not at all," he said. "It's a position I've been in in the past and I kind of relish that opportunity, just that state of being a guy that your teammates can come to, younger pitchers can come to for a little advice."
Carlos Zambrano was the last Cubs pitcher to throw a no-hitter, against Houston in 2008. That ended a 36-year no-hitter drought for the franchise, and Jake Arrieta is coming close to assuring Cubs fans don't have to wait that long for another. His next start is Thursday against Colorado.
June 13: Cubs 2, Philadelphia 1
No-hitter until: Domonic Brown doubles with one out in the fifth
Arrieta's stats: 7 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 9 strikeouts
June 24: Cubs 7, Cincinnati 3
Perfect game until: Billy Hamilton singles to lead off the seventh
Arrieta's stats: 7 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs, 0 walks, 9 strikeouts
June 30: Cubs 2, Boston 0
No-hitter until: Steven Drew singles with two outs in the eighth
Arrieta's stats: 7 2/3 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 walk, 10 strikeouts
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
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