CHICAGO – Former Orioles right-hander Jake Arrieta said it was different pitching against his old team Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, facing so many familiar faces for the first time.
Arrieta was a home-grown Oriole, once a can't-miss piece of the club's vaunted "calvary" group of young pitchers. But he struggled to find consistency in an Orioles uniform, leading to a trade that sent him to the Chicago Cubs in July 2013.
But now Arrieta is flourishing with his new team, and on Friday he stifled the Orioles' bats, allowing just one run on four hits over seven innings in a 4-1 Orioles' loss to the Cubs, snapping the Orioles' four-game winning streak.
"I think he looked more mature," said Orioles left fielder Nelson Cruz, who didn't play with Arrieta but faced him when Cruz was with the Rangers. "He was commanding all his pitches and he didn't make many mistakes. He's a great pitcher. We tried to battle and try to get as many runs as we can but unfortunately it wasn't our day. …We lost, forget about it and come back tomorrow and do our best."
For a team with little to get excited about this time of year, Arrieta has emerged as the Cubs' ace, posting 14 quality starts in his last 15 outings. He's allowed two runs or fewer in five of his last six starts.
"There was a little more to it, being your former team," Arrieta said. "After the first inning, it was just business as usual. It was nice to face those guys. It's good to see a lot of them again — it's been a while. It was just another start for me after that [first inning]."
Even though Arrieta wasn't able to fulfill lofty expectations in Baltimore — he was traded to the Cubs along with reliever Pedro Strop for right-hander Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger — he said his time there was important in making him the pitcher he's become.
"It's part of my development," Arrieta said. "Those years were and still are very important to me for a lot of reasons. Regardless of how certain situations went negatively or positively, they all impacted my career in a certain way. I'm thankful for those times over there, those years there, and I'll continue to use them for future reference, to reach back in the memory bank and think about certain times and certain situations that I had there, that I have now, and how I react and handle those. I think about it a lot."
With the Orioles, Arrieta showed flashes of promise — even earning the Opening Day starter nod in 2012 — but battled with his control. With the Cubs, he's been able to throw multiple pitches for strikes. This season, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is 3.74, nearly double his career mark of 2.04.
"It's development in all facets of pitching at all almost every level," Arrieta said. "Commanding multiple pitches for strikes, being able to throw them below the zone, above the zone, in and out of the zone, the ability to make adjustments on the fly, pitch after pitch, that might be the biggest adjustment and something I might not have been able to do frequently enough in my time in Baltimore. It's becoming second nature to me, and it feels good."
Arrieta retired the first 13 hitters he faced before Chris Davis' one-out single in the fifth, an inning that ended with Davis being thrown out at the plate.
"He was good," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Arrieta. "A lot of cutters, just like we knew he would. He pitched some real good games for us. You have to give up quality to get quality. He threw a lot of cutters, a lot of fastballs. He's still probably 50 percent fastball at best."
His only mistake was a 0-1 changeup to Cruz, who sent the pitch into the left-field stands for his majors leading 34th homer of the season, setting a career-high for Cruz.
Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman who had allowed just three homers over his first 13 starts this season for the Orioles (73-53), yielded two homers on Friday — solo blasts by Luis Valbuena and Javier Baez.
Gausman left the game after just five innings after his pitch count reached 101, the second time in his last three starts he's been forced from the game after five innings. He allowed three runs on six hits, tying a career-high with seven strikeouts to go along with no walks.
"Through the first three innings, I was cruising," Gausman said. "When I came out for the fifth, and I happened to look up there to see how many pitches I was at, and 'Oh, I have to make this inning count.'"
Two of the Cubs three runs off Gausman came with two outs, including Baez's blast in the fifth, which came on a full-count. After Baez sent the 83-mph hanging slider into the left-field seats, Gausman showed rare emotion by yelling into the air.
"That was as easy of a pitch to hit as I threw today," Gausman said. "In that situation, he takes hacks. That was a fastball in, but it's one of those things where you learn from it and move past it."
The Cubs also scored with two outs in a two-run fourth inning on Logan Watkins' RBI single to centerfield. Valbuena's homer also came in the fourth on an 0-2 pitch.
The Orioles didn't have many opportunities to score against Arrieta and foiled one chance in the fifth. With two on and two outs, Caleb Joseph singled to right, but Davis was thrown out trying to score from second base.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter asked for a crew chief review to make sure catcher John Baker didn't block the plate. But after just 55 seconds, the play was upheld, ending the inning.
Cruz hit his third homer in his last four games with his solo blast in the seventh.
The Orioles allowed a third run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh on Arismendy Alcantara's infield single to Ryan Flaherty at second base, scoring Chris Valaika, who hit a leadoff double, from third base.
The Orioles brought the tying run to the plate off Strop with two outs in the eighth. With runners at first and second, Valaika made a nice snag on the edge of the infield grass to retire Adam Jones to end the inning, one of several fine defensive plays by the Cubs.
"We hit five or six balls right at them," Showalter said. "Hopefully, we'll get some. You've got to tip your hat to them. They played really good defense. You take those four, five or six the other way, it may be a different situation. But you kind of know what it feels like on the other side because we've been able to play some pretty good defense along the way."