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Levine: Jake Arrieta Focused On Fine-Tuning His Game

By Bruce Levine--

MESA, Ariz. (CBS) -- The regular season can't come soon enough for Cubs ace and reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta. Although a repeat of a record season like 2015 isn't likely, the always-prepared and energized Arrieta will continue to look for perfection again as he approaches a new season.

In his second Cactus League appearance, Arrieta threw four innings, allowing one run on two hits Monday afternoon while walking one and fanning five Padres.

How good is Arrieta? He admitted to nearly walking Jemile Weeks on purpose just to work on his move out of the stretch.

"Well, I don't know," Arrieta grudgingly fessed up about the walk. "I wanted to pitch with guys on base. Really what I wanted to work on today is pitching out of the stretch, with good timing. I am looking for good tempo, to have a guy like Jemile on base who is fast, a guy who I had to vary sometimes with and throw over. He stole a base, but it was a good sequence there that I was really happy with."

Arrieta will pitch in a minor league game Saturday in order to work on more specific areas of his game without the constraints of a Cactus League contest.

"It is a little bit more of a controlled situation," Arrieta said of his next start. "If I get three outs in any inning, we can extend it and work on different things. If I get three outs in 10 pitches, we can extend that. We will try to get 15 to 17 pitches per inning, regardless of how many outs I get."

The plan for Arrieta is to build up to about 90 pitches the next two outings and then back off March 29, his last spring training start, to 60 to 70 pitches. This is done to refresh the arm and give five days of rest and more preparation for the season opener on April 4 against the Angels.

"The biggest thing right now is to build the pitch count up," Arrieta said. "You also want to get up and down, a number of times. Getting up and sitting down five or six times the next time out is one of the main objectives."

Despite having arguably the best-pitched season by a Cubs pitcher in 44 years during 2015, Arrieta still has plenty to prove to himself and the franchise as he moves forward. A long-term perspective of his Cubs tenure will depend on how reasonable the team and agent Scott Boras are in contract talks.

Arrieta's communicating with both Boras and Cub president of baseball operations Theo Epstein about the negotiations as they occur. The 30-year-old Arrieta said a week ago that he would prefer no talks take place during the regular season, as he contends that contract talks may be a distraction for himself and his teammates.

Arrieta's scheduled to make the Opening Day start for the Cubs in Los Angeles against the Angels April 4. This will be his second Opening Day assignment. The other occurred in 2012 as a Baltimore Oriole, whom he led to victory.

The 248-inning experience from last season is behind Arrieta now. He appears ready for the challenge of 2016.

"I knew after a couple weeks of not throwing, letting the body kind of recover, that it was back to normal," he said. "Now after dealing with the fatigue of last year, I have obviously bounced back. I am in better shape than ever and ready for another 250 (innings)."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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