Cubs Observations: Jake Arrieta's strong debut leads to 1st win

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Tim Stebbins
·5 min read
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Observations: Arrieta's strong debut leads to Cubs' 1st win originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Cubs scored their first win of the season Saturday with a 5-1 victory over the Pirates. 

Here’s 10 observations from the game.

1. Cubs manager David Ross went with a different lineup for the second game of the season. Ian Happ got the day off vs. Pirates lefty Tyler Anderson, giving Jake Marisnick the start in center field.

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Marisnick, making his Cubs debut, went 1-for-4 with an RBI single in the second inning. He later scored on a David Bote sac fly.

Ross said Saturday he’ll mix and match his outfielders to find them the right matchups. Marisnick hitting left-handed pitching would allow the Cubs skipper to maximize his four outfielders every game, all while adding a premier glove to the lineup.

2. With Happ off, Willson Contreras assumed the leadoff spot for just the fifth time in his career — and looked like a natural. The Cubs backstop went 0-for-2 but drew two walks.

3. Jake Arrieta, making his second Cubs debut on Saturday, provided plenty of nostalgia with a good outing against Pittsburgh. He settled in nicely after a 25-pitch first inning where he allowed two hits and a run.

Arrieta tossed six innings of six-hit, one-run ball, walking one with five strikeouts. He allowed one hit in each of his final four innings but worked around the traffic, finishing with 84 pitches (53 strikes).

"I've been anticipating this day for a while," Arrieta said. "It felt really good. Even though there's only [25] percent capacity, it felt like a lot more.

"Very thankful for the fans, showing up the way they did with the excitement and the energy from even before the first pitch. They were ready to get after it. It's just like I remembered it."

4. Arrieta admitted this spring he isn’t the guy who can dial his velocity up to the high-90s anymore. His sinker did hit 94 on Saturday, and he was able to successfully pitch to contact.

5. Arrieta also said late this spring his curveball is a “real important weapon for me.” Three of his five strikeouts Saturday came on that pitch, two swinging.

Baseball Savant

Jake Arrieta's three strikeouts via his curveball.

6. Javy Báez was outspoken last season about how challenging it was not to have in-game video access. MLB brought that back this season through iPads in the dugout, allowing players to analyze their plate appearances and make any necessary adjustments.

Sure enough, the Marquee broadcast in the second inning showed Báez in the dugout, iPad in hand. The shortstop went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Both hits were singles, recording 109 and 102.9 mph exit velocities.

7. Báez had a down offensive 2020 season but brought his elite baserunning and fielding to the diamond every day — winning a Gold Glove Award. We saw both aspects of El Mago’s game on Saturday.

After that second-inning hit, Báez stole second and later third, scoring on Marisnick’s single. In the fifth, he threw out Pirates third baseman Erik Gonzalez on a ground ball from shallow left field with a rocket throw.

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"Javy's chaos, man, when he gets out there," Ross said postgame. "He's fun to watch. He's an exciting player, feeds off the crowd. They feed off him, we feed off him. 

"He's a spark plug when he gets going, man. It's fun."

8. Kris Bryant hit just four home runs in 34 games during an injury-riddled 2020. He’s a quarter of the way to that total two games into 2021. Bryant hit the Cubs’ first homer of the season in the third, a basket shot to center field.

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9. Against Anderson, Cubs outfielder Joc Pederson went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, reaching on an error. Pederson also struck out against a lefty on Opening Day, but Ross noted pregame it's too early to put anyone under a microscope.

“Let’s look at the big body of work over the course of time and see what shakes out," Ross said. 

10. Craig Kimbrel pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning, striking out the side. He struck out Colin Moran on three pitches, getting him on a curveball. He then got Kevin Newman and Gregory Polanco looking with fastballs on the inside corner.

The veteran's fastball sat at 96 mph, touching 97.

"He wanted in this one no matter what," Ross said. "We've seen him build up in spring training, each performance getting better.

"Really nice performance."

The Cubs bullpen overall bounced back from a rough Opening Day Saturday with three scoreless innings. Brandon Workman, Andrew Chafin and Kimbrel combined to allow no hits and no walks while striking out seven.

Next up: The Cubs and Pirates conclude their three-game series Sunday at Wrigley Field. Zach Davies (making his Cubs debut) and Mitch Keller are the probable starters. First pitch is 1:20 p.m.

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