WASHINGTON – Jake Arrieta appears to be maturing into the kind of pitcher the Chicago Cubs hope can solidify their rotation weakened by the trade of starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
Although the Cubs lost 2-1 to the Washington Nationals on Sunday, Arrieta followed up two sensational outings with a gritty effort for a suddenly short-handed staff. He allowed one run in six innings of a no-decision.
"It was a dogfight," Arrieta said. "I really had to grind it out there."
The 28-year-old pitcher was acquired last year in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles. His performances during the past month suggest he might be shaking the inconsistency that previously plagued him.
He has pitched to a 0.92 ERA in June and took no-hitters through the sixth inning of his previous two starts. Arrieta lowered his ERA to 1.78 while striking out five and allowing four hits and three walks in his first outing in July.
"I think he's shown all of us and all of you guys that he's had some really consistent outings," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Arrieta, whose career-low season ERA was 4.66 during his rookie season.
Ryan Zimmerman's eighth-inning single off Pedro Strop (1-4) drove in the go-ahead run.
Washington took two of three games in the series, including 13-0 on Saturday to break Chicago's four-game winning streak.
Starlin Castro's sacrifice fly drove in Chris Coughlan to tie it 1-1 in the seventh after Coughlan pinch-hit for Arrieta and singled.
But an inning later, Denard Span's hustle turned a soft hit to right field off Strop into a double leading off the eighth. Two outs later, the Cubs intentionally walked Adam LaRoche to bring up Zimmerman, who ripped a single to left that scored Span.
Arrieta dueled Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann for six innings, but trailed 1-0 after a first-inning run.
The Cubs had at least one hit in each of the first six innings, but couldn't generate a clutch one versus Zimmermann. Chicago left 12 runners on base and went 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position.
"We did have some opportunities," Renteria said. "We weren't able to drive in those runners that we had at those times."
Following this weekend's blockbuster trade that sent starters Samardzija and Hammel to the Oakland Athletics, Arrieta inherited the No. 1 role in the Cubs rotation.
The right-hander carried a perfect game into the seventh inning on June 24 against Cincinnati and went 7 2-3 innings without allowing a hit at Boston on June 30.
Washington ended such hopes immediately as leadoff hitter Span hit a fly ball that sailed over the outfielders for a double. Span moved to third base on Anthony Rendon's grounder to second and scored on Jayson Werth's groundout for a 1-0 lead.
But despite allowing runners in all but one inning, Arrieta escaped further trouble in the fifth, leaving runners on first and third after Rendon's inning-ending groundout. He then struck out Zimmerman and Bryce Harper to strand Werth on second in the sixth.
"He was never rattled," Renteria said. "He got ground balls when he needed to. He made pitches, threw them off balance a little bit. He did a nice job."
The Cubs threatened in the eighth, putting runners at second and third with one out against Tyler Clippard (6-2), but didn't score. Pinch-hitter Wellington Castillo struck out looking, and Ryan Sweeney grounded out.
Rafael Soriano pitched a perfect ninth for his 21st save for the Nationals, who have won seven of eight.
Note: The Cubs recalled RHP Blake Parker from Triple-A Iowa before the game. Parker takes the roster spot created by the trade with Oakland.