Same ol' Jake: Cubs' ace delivers in '16 debut

Same ol' Jake: Cubs' ace delivers in '16 debut

ANAHEIM -- Jake Arrieta made it clear Monday night that he plans on defending his Cy Young Award.

In the season opener, the right-hander picked up where he left off, giving up two hits over seven scoreless innings while striking out six in the Cubs' 9-0 Interleague victory over the Angels.

The last time Arrieta pitched in Southern California, he threw a no-hitter on Aug. 30 at Dodger Stadium. The Angels' Kole Calhoun singled with one out in the second to avoid a repeat performance, and Arrieta served up one more hit -- a single by Daniel Nava leading off the seventh that Dexter Fowler nearly caught.

The blister that knocked Arrieta out of a spring start after two-thirds of an inning was not an issue, and wasn't even visible on his right thumb unless you squinted.

The Cubs have tried to lower expectations, saying Arrieta didn't need to win 22 games, which he did last season.

"Just understand, it will be very difficult to do what he did last year," manager Joe Maddon said. "I still expect that he'll pitch extremely well, but that was unworldly in the second half of the year."

It certainly was. Arrieta went 12-1 with an 0.75 ERA in 15 starts after the All-Star break, including the no-hitter.

"Numbers-wise it's tough to expect that, but I do, I still do," Arrieta said of his own expectations. "I expect to pitch this way every time I take the mound. Once the ball leaves your hand, you can't dictate the results. I expect to execute at a pretty high percentage."

Arrieta now has a streak of 21 consecutive quality starts with four plus strikeouts, tying Johan Santana, Pedro Martinez and Bob Gibson for the longest such stretch in the Major Leagues since 1920. He now has 12 straight wins, dating to his last loss, July 25, when Cole Hamels threw a no-hitter against the Cubs.

The key is Arrieta's ability to mix up his sequences. He did not throw three fastballs in a row Monday night, which helps Arrieta stay unpredictable.

"After the fourth, fifth, I knew he had it going again," catcher Miguel Montero said. "Today, to be honest, was one of the games when we were the most in sync together. It was fun to catch him."

Montero on Opening Day win

It wasn't fun to face him.

"He was just painting," said the Angels' Mike Trout, who struck out twice against Arrieta, both times on nasty offspeed pitches. "He's got good stuff. Locating well, working in and out, and had his offspeed pitches working."

"Remaining unpredictable is really big against guys like him, [Albert] Pujols, Calhoun, guys who hit the fastball well," Arrieta said. "I was able to do that tonight."

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.