By Bruce Levine--
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) -- The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner has one historic season on the resume. Now, can Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta ride that dominant year and pitch at or above the same level in 2016?
The Cubs have said they will back off the early innings load for their starting pitchers this spring. All of that makes sense due to the extra amount of stressful innings that Arrieta and the rotation had to toss in 2015.
Arrieta upped his innings total by 92 over his previous high of 156 2/3 in 2014. That set off some bells and alarms going forward for Arrieta, who turns 30 on March 6 and admitted his arm felt a bit tired at season's end. Arrieta was 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA in the regular season but wasn't his sharpest in the playoffs.
"Over the last two starts last season, I could tell and it was noticeable to me I was a little out of gas," Arrieta said as Cubs spring training began this weekend. "Going into this season, it seems very wise to monitor things early in the season to preserve things for October."
The lesson learned last year was that at some point, the human factor will exist and take over even the most finely tuned pitcher. Fatigue set in on Arrieta, despite the rigorous conditioning routine he stuck to all season.
"As I now know from last year's experience, as nice as it is to pitch into the eighth and ninth innings, it's important to be pitching meaningful innings in October," Arrieta said.
The muscle memory has served Arrieta well, as his offseason conditioning program has him ready for the rigors of another 200-plus-inning campaign.
"I was able to bounce back incredibly well this offseason with my workouts," Arrieta said. "My throwing progression has been identical to last year. Everything is pointing in a really positive direction."
The deep playoff push the Cubs had last season has turned players who were concerned about individual success into team players who want a championship for Chicago and its fan base.
"It's more about the team than anything individual," Arrieta said. "It's not about me, Lester or Anthony Rizzo. We have a collective mindset here. It's pretty obvious even this early in camp, all we care about is winning. If that means for me going just six or seven innings in multiple starts to let the big arms in the bullpen do their thing and hand the ball to (Hector) Rondon, those things are much more important than for me as an individual to get eight or nine innings."
Trying to repeat a historic season will be analyzed by baseball types when Arrieta hits the slab 33 or so times in 2016.
"My personal expectations for myself have always exceeded outside expectations," Arrieta said. "The pressure of expectations really don't play much of a role for me. It does not add any increased anxiety or nervousness for me. I just go about my business every day and prepare as I always do. When those big moments come I feel at ease. I know I have done everything I can to prepare for those moments."
Can the numbers of the second half of 2016 ever be equaled by Arrieta or any pitcher? It's unlikely, but the goal is to continue to throw the ball at that level. Arrieta's 0.75 ERA in the second half of last season was the best in baseball history.
"I joked with my buddies in the offseason about the second half I had," Arrieta said. "I did not realize the magnitude of the season I had. I told them I don't know if the numbers I had in the second half will ever be broken. I guess time will tell."
Arrieta will make $10.7 million in 2016. A long-term deal could be in the making before the year is out.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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