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Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta takes opening day starting opportunity in stride

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Jake Arrieta warms up before a Spring Training practice in Mesa on March 2nd.

MESA, Ariz. – Sometimes it’s not exactly what it might seem. Just ask Jon Lester.

After signing a $155 million contract late in 2014, the pitcher was given the opportunity by Joe Maddon to get the start the opening night at Wrigley Field against the Cardinals.

National audience, first night in a new era of the franchise in a new uniform. It all sounds so exciting, but for Lester it really wasn’t.

“It’s one of those days that kinda sucks,” admitted Lester, who allowed eight hits and three runs in 4 1/3 innings in an opening night loss to St. Louis last April 5th. “I think it’s one of the hardest days of the year to pitch personally. A lot of distractions, a lot of things going on.”

We’ll then luckily for Lester the honor wasn’t bestowed upon him for the April 4th opener against the Angels in Anaheim. He shouldn’t have been surprised. Not when his team features the defending NL Cy Young Award winner.

“It is an honor obviously,” said Jake Arrieta, the 22-game winner who will take the mound at 9:05 P.M. central time on April 4th at Angel Stadium. “I was able to get an opening day start early in my career during a different point in my career.”

That was when he was with the Orioles in 2012 when he pitched seven shutout innings in a win over the Twins in Baltimore on April 6th. Arrieta would go onto finish 3-9 in the season and since has moved onto the Cubs where he incredible run at the end of 2015 was one of the best in club history.

Now four years removed from his first opening day start, Arrieta may not be quite as blunt as Lester on the subject, but he is certainly taking the opening day start in stride.

"It's kinda something that's made a little too much of," said Arrieta of getting named the opening day starter by Joe Maddon on Tuesday. "But it's done now and really after opening day there's 161 games left to play and that's really our only concern."

Pressure shouldn't play much of a part for Arrieta considering the significance of his last three outings on the mound. That was one-game, NLDS-or-Go-Home Wild Card Playoff game in Pittsburgh in which he pitched a complete game shutout to get the Cubs their first playoff win since 2003.

He was also on the mound for Game 3 of the NLDS against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field-the first home playoff game for the Cubs in seven years. His final start was Game 2 of the NLCS at Citi Field in New York.

Plus Arrieta has already started an opening day so, frankly, handling the spotlight won't be a bit deal.

"There are some things that I'll use from that," said Arrieta on if he can draw from his last opening day start four years ago. "There are things that I will use from many other experiences-playoff atmospheres just to kind of hold the adrenaline at bay. Use it when I need.

"That's the biggest thing right there, keeping your emotions in check."

For the most part he did that in 2015-especially from August 1st till the end of the regular season when he was 11-0 and allowed just four total earned runs. It helped run his record to 22-6 and bring his ERA all the way down to 1.77 for the season, carrying over into an 11 strikeout masterpiece in the Wild Card game against the Pirates.

About the only thing that left something to be desired were his last two starts in the NLDS and NLCS when he allowed four earned runs in each start and failed to get out of the sixth inning. Finding ways to get a little more endurance for October has been a focus of Arrieta and the Cubs' coaching staff this spring in Mesa as he along with the team try to take a championship step.

"Arm strength is exceptionally good right now, the body is great. Really the only thing I need to work on now is refining secondary stuff and obviously emphasis is commanding the fastball," said Arrieta, who is expected to make his first spring training start early next week. "But right now I'm in a good spot."

He'll be in an even better place about a month from now in Anaheim. But this pitcher is hoping for a spot on the mound about six month from now.

"Somebody's got to start that game," said Arrieta of the opener. "It just so happens to be me."

Whether that's a good thing depends on your perspective.


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