David Ross, Cubs Could Face Difficult Decision if Jake Arrieta Continues to Struggle

Jake Arrieta knows a little something about throwing no-hitters against the Dodgers, so perhaps it’s fitting that he’ll be taking the bump Friday night in the wake of his team’s combined effort in the series opener. More accurately, Cubs fans are happy their team got a win prior to Arrieta’s start. The former ace has been very much former and not so much ace over for several weeks now, going 2-6 with a 7.58 ERA over his last nine starts.

He’s given up at least four earned runs in five of those starts and has struck out three or fewer six separate times while surrendering 12 home runs. His 7.5% swinging strike rate since April 30 drags down his overall 7.9% mark, which itself ranks 116th out of 124 pitchers who’ve logged at least 50 innings this season. Regular readers may lament that I keep bringing up Arrieta’s dwindling whiffs, but it remains a huge problem that isn’t getting better.

That’s a microcosm of the bearded righty’s season, which hasn’t quite gone the way the Cubs or Arrieta envisioned when they agreed to a reunion prior to the season. The Cubs wanted relatively cheap rotation help with enough cachet to put butts in the seats once said butts were allowed, Arrieta wanted a chance to rekindle the flame that had guttered since he left Chicago for the green in Philadelphia.

You have to wonder whether he might have been willing to throw some of that cash on the fire to keep it burning a little longer, though perhaps nothing could have halted the diminution of his performance into his 30’s. That’s something the Cubs and David Ross now need to think long and hard about with other pitchers getting ready to come off the IL and the trade deadline just over a month away.

While Trevor Williams isn’t going to be first on anyone’s list to replace Arrieta, the potential addition of another starter via trade means someone is losing his spot. And with Justin Steele nearing a return to a bullpen that is already filled to the brim with capable pitchers, it’s not as though the Cubs have either ability or desire to shuffle someone into a relief role.

Besides, Arrieta doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d be a great fit for a shift to the ‘pen even if it’s something he’d accept. Remember John Lackey in 2017? Yikes. Williams could also be an odd man out if his own struggles continue, except he’s got no emotional ties to the team and its fanbase beyond his father. Arrieta is a whole ‘nother story and you know his future is something Ross has intentionally avoided thinking about.

“I know every guy comes in and works and puts in the adjustments they’re making in their bullpens,” Ross said prior to Thursday’s historic win. “I know our pitching group is really happy about the work Jake’s putting in. I hadn’t thought that far ahead about how long you let it go. I think you kind of get to a point when you have to make those tough decisions and assess.”

Even if Friday doesn’t represent some sort of litmus test for Arrieta, it could very well color the Cubs’ view of what they’ve got in him moving forward. He looked great during the series win in San Diego, the only start of his last five in which he didn’t take the loss, so maybe it’s a matter of getting up for a tough opponent. And we’ve already noted his past success in LA.

But how willing are we, and that includes those who are actually making decisions that carry weight beyond the pages of this URL, to believe that even a solid performance against the Dodgers is indicative of what’s to come over the second half of the season? Can Arrieta recover enough to be more than the dead leg the rest of the team just sat cross-legged on for too long? At this point, even the pins-and-needles sensation would be welcomed because at least it means there’s life left.

All things considered, it sure feels like Jed Hoyer is going to have to find an upgrade for the back of the rotation. Now it’s just a matter of how high Arrieta can set the bar for that move.

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