Up in the air: Coleman, Samardzija make a pitch

257236.jpg

Up in the air: Coleman, Samardzija make a pitch

Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010
6:52 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MILWAUKEE When the Cubs selected Casey Coleman in the 15th round of the 2008 draft, it was difficult for him to picture where he would be in two years, but he certainly didnt see this.

That June Carlos Zambrano was in the first season of a five-year deal. Ryan Dempster was coming off a season in which he saved 28 games. Both would be named All-Stars, as would Ted Lilly the following year. The next month the Cubs traded for Rich Harden, hoping that would be the move to put them over the top in October.

It hasnt worked out the way anyone envisioned, but it has cleared a path for Coleman to become the games first third-generation major-league pitcher. But the 23-year-old doesnt want to become just an answer to a trivia question.

Colemans father Joe is an instructor in the Detroit Tigers system, so he understands that young pitchers typically get a chance out of the bullpen to showcase their arms, maybe one start to make an impression.

Coleman added to his body of work during Sundays 2-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in front of 37,317 fans at Miller Park. Hes pitched at least six innings in each of his last four starts. Hes developing a routine and competing for a job. The nerves are gone.

Im looking at it as a great opportunity, said Coleman, who allowed one run Sunday across six innings. Hopefully whoever is here next year as manager will get to see how Ive done.

The 62-81 Cubs have shifted to player-development mode, and next they will evaluate Jeff Samardzija, to see how far hes come since April 24.

During his last trip to Miller Park, Samardzija learned that he was being sent down to Triple-A Iowa, a stay that lasted almost five months. On Sunday he was told that hell be starting the next night against a St. Louis Cardinals team fading from the National League Central race.

Sometimes you get pulled into the office for bad things, Samardzija said, and sometimes for good things. (Im) ready to go.

The Cubs expected to take a look at their 10 million investment later this week, but those plans changed on Sunday when Carlos Silva reported discomfort with whats being described as a right elbow strain.

Silva isnt traveling with the team to St. Louis and will visit Dr. Stephen Gryzlo on Monday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Presumably the staff will decide whether or not it makes sense to shut down Silva for the final three weeks of the season.

That creates an opportunity for Samardzija, who went 11-3 with a 4.37 ERA at Iowa, but was repeatedly bypassed as the Cubs held auditions throughout the summer.

(Well) get out there and just really attack, Samardzija said. I dont think theres really anything else to change or anything else to look at just go out and pitch. (Its) definitely something thats been on my mind for a long time.

The television sets in the Cubs clubhouse and the Miller Park press box have been tuned into college football and NFL games all weekend. Samardzija, once a star wide receiver at the University of Notre Dame, dismissed a reporter wondering if he still thinks about his career choice.

Coleman never had those conflicts of interest. He was seemingly born to pitch, and though he doesnt have blow-away stuff, the staffs streak of 25 consecutive scoreless innings was snapped only after Ryan Braun muscled a broken-bat double that landed near the line in shallow right field.

The Brewers (66-76) lit up Coleman for six runs in 2 13 innings during his big-league debut on Aug. 2. Hes been living out of a hotel ever since, because he didnt know how long hed remain in Chicago. He went back and studied the film from that game, hoping to find any edge that will help him stick at this level.

This is a game of adjustments, he said. It gives you a lot of confidence as a pitcher knowing that these guys dont own you and you can get them out and compete. That will be something I build on for the future, because I hope to face them again.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

Jon Lester thinks Cubs have a special player in Willson Contreras: ‘It’s about time we got an offensive catcher’

MESA, Ariz. – Jon Lester couldn't resist when a reporter mentioned the two home runs Willson Contreras launched off Danny Salazar, an All-Star talent who might have changed last year's World Series if he had been at full strength.

"It's about time we got an offensive catcher," Lester said.

Zing! Lester had already seen David Ross on "Dancing with the Stars" by the time he finished up against the Cleveland Indians and met with reporters on Monday night at Goodyear Ballpark. While Lester knew Grandpa Rossy would appreciate that one-liner, there is also some truth behind it.

Yes, Ross became the security blanket for a $155 million pitcher, helped push and encourage young players like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and got carried off the field after delivering his own Game 7 homer. But whatever Contreras may lack now in game-calling experience and pitcher psychology, he can make up for it with his rocket arm, smooth swing and willingness to learn.

A camp that began with questions about how Lester would work with Contreras ended with a sincere endorsement.

"Willie's obviously very special, to be serious about it," Lester said. "He's definitely going to add a presence to that lineup as far as protecting ‘Rizz' and ‘KB' to where they're not going to be able to just pitch around those guys. We're going to have some other guys to do some damage in the middle to the bottom of that order.

"He's a special kid, just like anybody else on this team. He's (24), so he'll only get better as time goes on and (he gets) the at-bats and the innings and all that stuff. So I'm excited to see him for a full season and how well he can do back there."

[Buy Cubs tickets right here]

That's another reason why the defending World Series champs might actually look better on paper than the unforgettable 2016 Cubs. Ross did a "Dancing with the Stars" routine based off Young MC's "Bust a Move," a song released in 1989, or years before Bryant, Contreras, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Albert Almora Jr. were born.

Before the Cubs packed up and left Arizona, Ross made a promotional appearance in Mesa this week and caught up with some old friends like John Lackey.

"We got rid of Rossy," Lackey told reporters as the Cubs finished their Cactus League schedule with Wednesday's 15-11 win over the Oakland A's at Sloan Park. "He stinks. And we should be better. Actually, I was just inside talking to Rossy and he said that, so that's from him."

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

On paper, have Cubs put together a better roster than last year's World Series team?

MESA, Ariz. – One minute into the media scrum outside the West Wing, a Washington reporter asked Theo Epstein if this season would be considered a disappointment if the Cubs don't win the World Series.

"Oof, I hadn't thought too much about 2017 yet today," Epstein said after President Barack Obama's final official White House event. "But, yeah, I mean, that's our goal. I think the organization has come such a long way and we have this talented young core. We're clearly in a very competitive phase where I think if we do our jobs, we could be as good, if not better, than any team in baseball.

"So if you're going to compete, you set your sights for the world championship. It doesn't always work out that way. But we see it as our jobs to do everything we can to be back at the White House next year."

Whether or not Epstein would actually go through with a Donald Trump photo op is a different story. But with the Cubs signaling their Opening Night roster – keeping outfielder Matt Szczur and infielder Tommy La Stella while lefty reliever Brian Duensing begins the season on the disabled list – you could make the case that the team breaking camp on Wednesday looks better on paper than last year's World Series winner.

"This is a crazy talented group," All-Star closer Wade Davis said. "There's 10 or 12 players on this team that are some of the best players in baseball."

That doesn't mean the Cubs will develop the same chemistry or sense of purpose, but this team is completely used to the national spotlight, hanging out with celebrity fans and being followed around like rock stars on the road. 

Epstein compared this camp in Arizona with what the Boston Red Sox faced after ending the 86-year drought. 

"I will never forget in '05 spring training, we had 5,000 people the first day, 3,000 fans every day," Epstein said. "I was expecting it to be as nuts. But it's been refreshingly normal, reflecting the personality of our players, taking everything in stride."   

This doesn't mean the Cubs will stay as healthy as they did last year, when the projected rotation made 152 starts combined. But four-fifths of that group returns with Brett Anderson – given his natural ability, pitching IQ and extensive medical file – appearing to have a higher ceiling and lower floor than Jason Hammel.

As Anderson said: "It's not too often that you have a salty veteran with multiple rings (John Lackey) in front of you and a guy (Kyle Hendricks) that led the league in ERA behind you."

The 2016 Cubs won 103 games and scored 800-plus runs: without Kyle Schwarber contributing a single hit during the regular season; and with Jason Heyward finishing with a .631 OPS (or 103 points below the league average).

Manager Joe Maddon said Geek Department projections have this lineup generating even more offense with Schwarber as the new leadoff guy (even with a brace on his left leg), continued growth from young players like Addison Russell and Willson Contreras and Heyward not being one of the worst hitters in the majors.

[Buy Cubs tickets right here]

The Cubs are also counting on a full season from Davis, instead of a half-season rental like Aroldis Chapman. Where last year's Opening Night bullpen featured three guys who would get DFA'd or traded by midseason (Neil Ramirez, Clayton Richard, Adam Warren), this version features three guys who've already notched the final out in a World Series (Davis, Koji Uehara, Mike Montgomery).

"All the additions are wonderful complements to what this team was already," Schwarber said. "Upgrades. It's going to be really cool to see how it all plays out this season with more guys getting another year of experience under their belt."

Ian Happ raising his profile and hitting around .400 in the Cactus League should help his trade value if the Cubs need to deal for pitching at the trade deadline. The combination of Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in center field should be an improvement over Dexter Fowler for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year.

As someone with fresh eyes – and the perspective from being on Los Angeles Dodgers teams that won back-to-back National League West titles – Anderson hasn't see any signs of complacency.

"Not at all," Anderson said. "The young guys are still hungry. And the handful of guys that weren't here last year makes you that much more hungry and itchy to get back where they were last year.

"It's a really good mix – if not a perfect mix – of young guys, veteran guys and a couple fresh faces that are eager to get back to what these guys accomplished last year."