As Jake Arrieta became an All-Star, a Cy Young Award winner and an oh-what-could've-been fantasy for Orioles fans last season, he kept mum on his strained relationship with former Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair, under whose tutelage he struggled. In an ESPN feature, Arrieta in October declined "to single out Adair for his travails with the Orioles."
But as the old saying goes: If you have nothing nice to say, wait for the Sports Illustrated cover story to spill it. In Tom Verducci's profile, the Chicago Cubs ace opens up about his frustrations with the Orioles (and, ultimately, gratitude to them).
A fifth-round draft pick of the Orioles in 2007, Arrieta made his big-league debut in 2010. By 2011, he was part of the much-heralded "cavalry" and a rotation regular, if an unspectacular one. Midway through that season, pitching coach Mark Connor quit for personal reasons, replaced by bullpen coach Rick Adair.
Adair, described in the ESPN story as a "my-way-or-the-highway guy with a cookie-cutter approach," fiddled with Arrieta's mechanics. Most notably, his natural cross-body approach was cut to make way for a stride directly to home plate.
"There were so many things in Baltimore not many people know about," Arrieta, who went 6–16 with a 6.30 ERA in his two calendar years under Adair, told SI. "I had struggles with my pitching coach. A lot of guys did. Three or four guys — [Chris] Tillman, [Brian] Matusz, [Zach] Britton — were just really uncomfortable in their own skins at the time, trying to be the guys they weren’t. You can attest how difficult it is to try to reinvent your mechanics against the best competition in the world.
"I feel like I was playing a constant tug-of-war, trying to make the adjustments I was being told to make and knowing in the back of my mind that I can do things differently and be better. It was such a tremendous struggle for me because as a second and third-year player, you want to be coachable. I knew I got [to the majors] for a reason, and I was confused about why I was changing that now. You feel everybody has your best interests in mind, but you come to find out that’s not necessarily the case."
Adair took a leave of absence in August 2013, shortly after Arrieta was traded along with Pedro Strop to the Cubs for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger. He told SI that Arrieta's recovery from the removal of a bone spur in his elbow in August 2011 might have affected his performance, but called the new-and-improved Arrieta the "best in the game."
The Orioles might have needed the split as much as Arrieta. The Washington Post reported in October that Arrieta had become "a target of scorn" in the clubhouse.
"In his first big league spring training, in 2009, Arrieta kept a personal blog," the Post's Adam Kilgore wrote. "He derided the Orioles’ spring training facilities, mocked the pitching mechanics of teammate Brad Bergesen and questioned the physical condition of established Orioles. One veteran noticed the blog, printed out copies and placed them on the chairs of every veteran in the clubhouse."
It's appropriate, then, that when Arrieta was notified of his trade to Chicago, he was at Triple-A Norfolk. With the Orioles that season, he was 1-2 with a 7.23 ERA. With the Tides, he was 5-3 with a 4.41 ERA. After executive vice president Dan Duquette told him they were moving on, Arrieta reportedly thanked him and said he enjoyed his time in Baltimore.
“I really did,” he told SI. “I learned so much. It got me to this point.”