Arrieta 'Opening Day'-ready in tuneup

Cy Young winner pumped over outing versus Minor Leaguers

Arrieta 'Opening Day'-ready in tuneup

MESA, Ariz. -- There were only a couple of hundred people surrounding one of the back fields to watch Jake Arrieta pitch five innings in a Minor League game Saturday. His take from the outing?

"I could've started Opening Day today," said Arrieta, who will begin the 2016 season for the Cubs on April 4, when they face the Angels.

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It was a pitch-efficient effort for the reigning National League Cy Young winner, who gave up two hits, walked one and struck out four Triple-A Rockies.

"I threw 60 pitches with very little effort," Arrieta said. "The biggest thing today is find the tempo, the rhythm and try to pitch as effective as you can with the least amount of effort, and that's what I did. It was about 80 percent effort, good [velocity], good action on all my breaking stuff.

"To be able to do that early in the games and save stuff for the third or fourth time through the order is a big deal," he said. "I have to fine-tune some things but I'm pretty close."

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As far as catcher Miguel Montero was concerned, Arrieta could've faced the Angels, and not in a Cactus League game.

"He was nice and easy hitting his spots without trying too hard," Montero said. "I think sometimes you need that -- just ease it up, go 80 percent, 70 percent and everything takes off from there. Seventy percent today was outstanding. I know it was Minor League guys hitting, but I don't think big leaguers would have been able to do much with him, either. He was pretty sharp."

Arrieta's next start will be Thursday against the Giants in Scottsdale, and he'll have one more tuneup before the Cubs break camp. He enjoys the process of preparing. Sunday will be a recovery day in which he does his heavy leg work. He'll throw on the side Monday.

"The days go by fast," Arrieta said. "Each day, I've got three or four hours of solid work to get done, and then the day is over and it's on to the next one. Those kind of days make it easy for time to pass a little quicker. We know Opening Day is right around the corner. It's just a matter of trying to stay patient."

It was a little strange Saturday without a crowd cheering, no music blaring, and having Cubs' Tommy La Stella and Matt Szczur bat every inning. Both La Stella and Szczur are rehabbing from injuries, and needed the at-bats.

"It gets to the point where you don't even realize that," Arrieta said of the atmosphere, or lack of it. "It's just me and the catcher. I see the umpire and the hitter in the box. Just getting locked in and focused mentally -- go back to Pittsburgh in the Wild Card Game. I was able to pretty much drown out the entire atmosphere and focus on Miggy behind the plate then."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.