Arms race: Silva loses in return, Samardzija waits

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Arms race: Silva loses in return, Samardzija waits

Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010
Updated 11:03 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The last time Carlos Silva pitched in a major-league game he left the stadium in an ambulance and was rushed to a hospital. He had trouble breathing, and would undergo a procedure to fix his abnormally high heart rate.

That was 37 days ago in Denver, and so much around the Cubs has changed since then, except this: They are still looking at their pitching staff for answers.

Jeff Samardzija was among five players promoted from Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday, though he is the only one working on a 10 million contract. He figures to get a look as a starter at some point this month.

That night Silva labored through a 7-3 loss to the Houston Astros in front of 31,596 fans at Wrigley Field, though he has given the Cubs more than they ever could have imagined when he was acquired in the Milton Bradley deal.

Silva lasted through five innings and 87 pitches, giving up six runs on nine hits. He doesnt quite look like an All-Star anymore, the way he did during the first half of the season. But remember that the Seattle Mariners got only 30 13 innings out of him last year, and that he went 4-15 with a 6.46 ERA in 2008.

Silva (10-6, 4.22) felt good Tuesday night the results just werent there. Hes not concerned about another episode, and felt comfortable against the Astros (65-73). After two minor-league rehab appearances, hes trying to build up arm strength and put together a good September.

Thats what Im looking for, Silva said, (to) try to finish very strong and come (in) next year ready to go. That means a lot for any player the way you finish.

The Cubs (60-79) demoted Samardzija on April 24, and the 25-year-old watched as the organization ran a shuttle for young pitchers between Des Moines and Chicago. It was hard at first, seeing so many of his teammates called up. Stuck at Triple-A, he went 11-3 with a 4.37 ERA in 35 games (15 starts).

I was going (to) get right and get some appearances. I went down and I pitched my ass off for awhile, Samardzija said. (But) its not in my hands. Im in no position to make those decisions or try (to) change their minds.

You get knocked down a little bit and then you kind of realize whats going on. And I was fine (with that).

Right now manager Mike Quade doesnt expect Tom Gorzelanny (bruised left hand) to be available to start this week. For the moment only Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster are scheduled to throw this weekend in Milwaukee.

Maybe Casey Coleman starts Sunday against the Brewers. Quade said he wasnt aware of any organizational discussions about shutting Silva down for the season after his health scare.

We think we have a surplus of arms, Quade said. But (Silva) felt so good about his heart no worries there and if you can put that out of your mind, his arms always been fine. So lets go ahead and see if he can come back and help us some.

After that, where does Samardzija factor into the equation?

Jeffs still going to be a good major-league pitcher, general manager Jim Hendry said. What role he ends up in is not really something that we stress over now.

On Saturday Samardzija once an All-American wide receiver at the University of Notre Dame watched Brian Kellys debut as the Fighting Irish head coach. One 23-12 win over Purdue later, expectations seem to have changed.

Theyre already talking about a national championship, right? Samardzija said. Then well lose a game and theyll talk about firing him, right? Thats how it goes.

Same with the Cubs. Until they went all in on player development during the second half of this season, their games were covered as if there were only 12 on the schedule.

In the same way, it will be easy to make snap judgments after every Silva start or Samardzija appearance. But this winter the front office will take a look at the bigger picture to see how all the pieces fit.

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

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

Willson Contreras is playing his butt off right now for first-place Cubs

This really is becoming Willson Contreras' team.

The dude is absolutely on fire right now and has almost singlehandedly lifted the Cubs back into first place.

Since the All-Star Break, Contreras has crushed four homers and three doubles while driving in 11 runs in just eight games. 

The Cubs have won seven of those games, including Sunday night when Contreras' two-run shot in the sixth inning turned out to be the game-winner that pushed the Cubs into a first-place tie with the Milwaukee Brewers. (The Cubs also won the only game Contreras hasn't started since the Break.)

In the span of nine games, the Cubs have already erased the 5.5 game deficit they had in the National League Central entering the midseason break.

"He's just playing his butt off, literally, right now," Joe Maddon said. "Everything he's doing is pretty darn good. He plays with enthusiasm, also. You gotta feel that in the stands.

"There's some times he might get over-enthusiastic. I prefer toning people down as opposed to pumping them up all the time. He's doing everything. He's hitting fourth, he's catching, he's handling a really good pitching staff, he's throwing people out, he's blocking the ball really well and he's hitting homers, so God bless him."

Contreras' offense has been amazing, but Maddon credits the young catcher's block on a Wade Davis pitch in the dirt last week in Atlanta with helping to save the season. That play helped ensure a victory by not permitting the tying run to score from third base as the Cubs rattled off six straight wins to start the second half of 2017.

It's at the point now where Maddon cannot rationally find ways to get Contreras out of the lineup, even though the veteran manager is a huge proponent of rest and wants nothing more than to keep his players healthy and playing at a high level late in the season and into the playoffs.

Contreras is like the Energizer Bunny out there, hopping all around behind the plate to block balls, throwing guys out, pumping his chest, screaming obscenities at his first base coach after home runs. He even plays long toss (from the warning track in left-centerfield to about the spot the second baseman normally plays) before games with catching coach Mike Borzello.

The 25-year-old just does not turn down for anything when he's at the ballpark.

So does he ever get weary?

"I do get tired, but when I get home," he said. "When I'm here, I'm never tired. This is my job, this is what I love and you're gonna see me like that all throughout my career."

Contreras credits the Cubs coaching staff with helping him make the mental adjustments that has him in the conversation as one of the best catchers in baseball.

"He's growing up," Anthony Rizzo said. "He's really taking control behind the plate, which is nice. His at-bats just keep getting better and better and it's really fun to watch."

Contreras is on pace for 25 homers and 87 RBI, second only to Kansas City's Salvador Perez in both categories among catchers.

"He definitely has the abilities to be one of the elite catchers," Maddon said. "You gotta consider him one of the elite catchers in the National League already. Because he just does everything so well.

"The biggest next hurdle is just — without pulling him in too much — controlling his emotions a tad more without losing that enthusiasm that he has. Really understanding the game and calling the game and working his pitchers. 

"Mike Borzello does a great job with him. He started out this year and wasn't so good — missing his pitches, missing fastballs, fouling stuff off. But he stayed with it and now you see what he's capable of doing. He is really good right now and he's gonna get better."

Jose Quintana reveling in first place vibes after 'overexcited' home Cubs debut

Jose Quintana reveling in first place vibes after 'overexcited' home Cubs debut

Jose Quintana is grateful for his defense and offense picking him up.

That's not something he's used to feeling after years of borderline-laughable run support from the White Sox in games he started.

But as he made his Wrigley Field debut in a Cubs uniform Sunday night, Quintana served up three rockets in a row to the heart of the Cardinals order and all three wound up as outs.

First it was a lineout to Jason Heyward in right field where the Gold Glover leapt in the air and did something of a karate kick while catching the ball.

Another hard liner at Heyward followed before Jedd Gyorko laced a double into the left-centerfield gap. But Kyle Schwarber retrieved it quickly, made a perfect throw to Addison Russell who spun and made a quick throw to Willson Contreras at the plate to nab Matt Carpenter by a mile.

Thus endeth the first top of the first inning for Quintana at "The Friendly Confines."

"At the beginning of the game, he might've been a little overexcited," Joe Maddon said. "He was too quick with all of his actions. The pitches weren't going where he wanted them to go.

"And then I thought he settled in very well. He wasn't as sharp as in Baltimore, but he was good. He was very good."

Quintana allowed three runs on five hits and a pair of walks in six innings, recording the bare minimum requirements for a quality start. He also picked up his second win in as many outings with the Cubs when batterymate Willson Contreras hit a game-winning two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth.

Quintana agreed with Maddon that he was a little over-exuberant in this one.

"Too many emotions for me," he said. "It was one I enjoyed a lot. I was just trying to focus on inning by inning."

This is the first time Quintana has been on a team in the playoff hunt since his rookie season in 2012 when the Sox went 85-77 and missed the playoffs.

With Sunday's win, the Cubs have moved back into a share of first place and Quintana is all about the success.

"That's awesome," he said. "First time. To come into a team like this one and get to first place, that's amazing. I want to keep doing my job."

Now Quintana will have four days to sit back, relax, strap it down and watch the Crosstown Series knowing he won't have to go in and face a bunch of guys who he called teammates just two weeks ago. 

Quintana's next start will come Friday in Milwaukee.

"He's as advertised," Anthony Rizzo said. "Really didn't enjoy facing him. When we played the White Sox, he was the guy I always hoped to miss. To have him here and his demeanor on the mound is awesome."