Jake Arrieta reflects on time with Orioles, believes he could've become an ace in Baltimore

Jake Arrieta is congratulated after getting out of a jam to finish off the Dodgers in the 7th inning at Wrigley Field on May 31, 2016.
Jake Arrieta is congratulated after getting out of a jam to finish off the Dodgers in the 7th inning at Wrigley Field on May 31, 2016.(Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)

It certainly is no secret in Baltimore and beyond that the Orioles starting rotation is in crisis, which just makes it that much more frustrating for fans to watch from afar as 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta continues along his merry way.

If it's any consolation, he's not gloating, though he would have every right.


Arrieta has picked up right where he left off last year, when he won 22 games and pitched his first no-hitter. He pitched his second one on April 21 and has again been all but unbeatable as the Chicago Cubs have run away from the NL Central pack in building the best record in either league.

He could have turned a lengthy interview last week into a seminar on why the Orioles have had trouble developing some very talented young pitchers, but he largely glossed over the organizational mistakes that led to his departure — and professional rebirth — in 2013.

Instead, he seemed almost nostalgic about his six years in the Orioles organization.

"No, it wasn't a bad time at all," Arrieta said. "It's just that I went through difficult situations. I had great teammates. Adam Jones took great care of me. Mike Gonzalez took good care of me. I had teammates like Chris Davis. Manny Machado was really young and such a good kid. Seeing his development, it's ridiculous. He's going to get bigger. He's going to get stronger. He's going to get even better."

When you start your career in one organization and spend most of your career there, you make a lot of friends, which makes it tougher to go away mad.

"I keep close tabs on everyone over there," Arrieta said. "All the guys I played with are still there. Nolan Reimold. Ryan Flaherty. [Chris Tillman] It's awesome to see Tilly pitch that way. I've seen him at his best. I've seen him struggle for an extended period of time. We've all been there. To kind of persevere and get on track and do what he's doing now is great to see. I love seeing those guys have success over there. I wouldn't change anything I went through for the world, because it got me here."

No doubt, Orioles fans would rather hear him voice their frustration over the sad fact that he left in a four-player deal for journeyman starter Scott Feldman three years ago instead of being currently paired with Tillman (9-1, 2.87 ERA) in one of the best 1-2 pitching combinations in the sport.

Arrieta could easily look back in anger at the way the team tinkered with his delivery and forced him to scrap a cut fastball that now is a huge part of his repertoire. He could throw it all on former Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair or minor league pitching guru Rick Peterson, or just the organization's reluctance to let any of its young pitchers throw the cutter.


That would be fair game and Arrieta laid a lot of it out in a Sports Illustrated profile this spring, but it's old news and he's never been a guy to live in the past.

"You could say that, but at the same time, players have to take ownership of their own careers at some point and either do things one way or go down another path that can be negative," he said. "I tell a lot of young guys that. You've got to look in the mirror and be comfortable with, 'Hey, did I do it my way? Did I try it my way before I either quit playing or listened to somebody else?' I think you have to do that. You have to trust yourself.

"Everyone individually knows what they're capable of … knows that there are certain things they can do to be successful. And that's kind of where I stood at the time. I knew there were things different I could do to be better. That's kind of what is showing here."

So, what is it about the Cubs organization that seems to make struggling pitchers more comfortable? Fellow former Oriole Jason Hammel has experienced something of a renaissance in Chicago, though certainly nothing comparable to the resurrection of Arrieta's career. Setup reliever Pedro Strop, the other pitcher lost in what is now considered one of the worst trades in Orioles history, also has flourished there.

"People have confidence in you," Arrieta said. "It's easy to have confidence in somebody that's going out there every night and giving the team a chance to win. That's kind of what I've been able to do. In Baltimore, I was still trying to figure out who I was as a player. I wasn't sure. Was I strictly a power pitcher? Did I need to use finesse within the game to manage the game? I went back and forth. I would pitch a certain way one game and pitch completely different the next game. I was just searching for answers.

"The environment here is basically, I have been able to go out there and just be myself. Not worry about my mechanics, just understand that my job is just to execute pitches and to be comfortable and to try to do all that on a consistent basis. So, mechanically, my timing is where I would like it, and in Baltimore I didn't have it and I didn't know how to find my timing. I searched for it."


When he found it, his whole world changed. Arrieta was 20-25 with a bulging 5.46 ERA in parts of four seasons with the Orioles. He is 47-14 with a 2.17 ERA over about the same timespan in Chicago.

Here's what's really scary. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said the other day that Arrieta has not realized all of his potential.

Really? How much better can you be when you're 11-1 with a 1.74 ERA and you just ended a 20-decision winning streak that included two no-hitters?

"He's been really good," Maddon said, "and he's done that without having his total fastball command yet. It's going to happen and you'll know. You'll see it. There's another level of him. When you watch [Clayton] Kershaw and he's pitching with everything going on … Jake is pitching really well and he doesn't have everything going on now."

Arrieta agrees with that assessment, but he's always worn his tremendous self-confidence on his sleeve. It got him in trouble early on in the Orioles clubhouse, but he always knew there was more to come.

"Five years ago, would I see myself in this position? I don't know," he said. "It's tough to answer that question. I always knew that I could pitch this way. You remember me saying it and I got criticized for that, but if that's the way I truly feel in my heart, why not express that? Some people didn't like it, but that's just the way I am."

Arrieta has faced the Orioles since he left Baltimore, but not at Oriole Park. He won't this year unless the Cubs and Orioles meet in the World Series, but he's looking forward to the chance to come back and pitch in front of his old fan base.

"I would love to pitch at Camden again," he said. "Everyone, no matter which team they play for, says it's their favorite stadium. It was and is one of my favorite parks. It was the first of a new wave of ballparks. The way everything is structured and laid out, it was just a great place to play. The ball flies a lot more than [pitchers] would like it to, but the history there with Cal [Ripken Jr.] and a lot of the other great players who have been there, it's just a great place to play."

There is a school of thought that Arrieta never was going to pop in Baltimore, that he's a classic change-of-scenery guy who just needed a fresh start and a few new sets of eyes to help him figure himself out.


Maybe so, but you'll never convince him of that. He firmly believes that if he had stayed with the Orioles he would be a premier starting pitcher right now.

"I think so," Arrieta said. "Would I have won the Cy Young Award and had a 1.77 ERA? I don't know, but I knew I'd get there. I knew I would."


Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.