Arrieta's increased focus, maturity on display at Orioles spring training

Pitcher's coaches, teammates see 'a whole different Jake' this year

February 17, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — Every morning, just after 7 o'clock, Orioles pitcher Jake Arrieta leaves his temporary home in Siesta Key and bikes the nine miles to Ed Smith Stadium.

"It's a nice little stroll, but it's a fun ride," Arrieta said. "It's not because I want a workout. It's kind of my routine. I really want to keep that throughout the season. I rode my bike to the field in Baltimore all last year when I was there. I'm on the bike everyday in the offseason so I figure, 'Hey, let's try to keep the routine as close to what it is in your day-to-day life.' That's what I'm doing."

While he tries to maintain his routine, those around Arrieta have noticed significant differences in his actions and demeanor this spring. Fellow young starter Brian Matusz described Arrieta, who irritated some Orioles the past two springs with what they perceived as his overly confident manner, as a "great guy and a great teammate," and raved about his work ethic.

Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Mike Griffin, who has worked with Arrieta in each of the past two seasons, sees a "whole different Jake" and praised the right-hander's maturity and focus.

"Just talking to him this year compared to last year and compared to '09, there is a major difference," Griffin said. "There's more of a sense of knowing who he is, not only as a person but also knowing who he is as a pitcher, and knowing how to deal with pitching in the American League. Maturitywise, he has really impressed me this spring."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who watched Arrieta go 3-3 with a 3.80 ERA over the final two months of 2010, hopes he didn't change too much. "I kind of liked the guy I saw in August and September," he quipped.

Arrieta went 6-6 with a 4.66 ERA in 18 starts for the Orioles in 2010. He beat the New York Yankees with six solid innings in his major league debut and stayed in the rotation until he was shut down in mid-September. Arrieta had already far exceeded his career high in innings, and there was also concern about a bone spur in his right elbow.

Arrieta said he feels 100 percent — "Everything couldn't be any better right now," he said — and he looked particularly sharp in his second bullpen session Thursday. While Showalter has abstained from guaranteeing any of the young starters spots in the rotation, it is clear that Arrieta has a pretty strong grip on one.

"I feel that I am on this team, and I don't say [that] because I feel like I have a spot automatically," Arrieta said. "I'm in this clubhouse, and I carry myself with the intent of being a part of this team. That's only going to make me work harder, knowing that I'm a guy on this team who has to set an example for some of the younger guys. I feel like that's the right mindset to have."

It's also a departure from his perceived attitude the previous two springs, when teammates felt that he was trying too hard to impress them and stand out to the manager and coaching staff.

"I think his presence on the mound got better," Showalter said. "You could see it today. There were three guys throwing … and [pitching coach Mark Connor] was not standing behind Arrieta. You could see a pitcher looking over there [like], 'Why isn't he over here watching me throw?' He doesn't give a [damn]. There is a professional comfort there. It seems like he's comfortable in his skin. He's got a healthy respect for what he's going to be asked to do if he makes our club."

Arrieta, one of the Orioles' best-conditioned players, increased the intensity of his workouts in Austin, Texas, this past offseason. When he started his throwing program, he kept in mind his one-on-meeting with Showalter late last season and some of the problems he encountered in 2010.

"I wanted to sit face-to-face with Buck, kind of pick his brain, get some perspective of what he saw from me and what he feels I need to work on," Arrieta said. "It kind of goes back to the same thing I worked on with Griff at Triple-A and [former Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz] a little bit last year. Everyone saw it. When my stride gets too long, things start to unravel a little bit with my delivery.

"I think, all things considered, all the experiences from last year and the years before that puts everything in perspective the following year. You have a better idea what to expect when the next spring training approaches. You kind of acquire all the information that you gathered over the past few years in your career, and you try to use that to help you for the following season."

In doing so, Arrieta has quieted some of the skepticism of his teammates, which some have said was overblown.

"I don't think anyone even thinks about that stuff anymore," Matusz said. "You see his work ethic. He's here early every day, he stays late every day. He's working so hard preparing. You can see that he's really grown, much like all of us. Jake just gets down to business. He makes adjustments, he's talking to all of us all the time on how to improve. He's determined to have a spot this year."

Arrieta acknowledged that it was nice to hear praise from his peers, calling it a tribute to his work ethic, which is on display everyday during his bike rides to and from Ed Smith Stadium.

"When you walk through those doors, it's about business and about getting something accomplished," Arrieta said. "I never put pressure on myself. I have high expectations, and I know that there's no question I'll reach those expectations. I just have to continue to stay on the right path and everything will work out."

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