Samardzija, Russell among Cubs at crossroads


Samardzija, Russell among Cubs at crossroads

Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011Posted: 3:05 PM

By Patrick Mooney

MESA, Ariz. Jeff Samardzija might get more media opportunities than anyone else on the fringes of a major-league roster. There is the football back story, and the probability that you either love or hate Notre Dame.

Samardzija, who has a goatee and long hair that goes to the back of his neck, is also a pretty approachable dude. So reporters will ask him about his preference: Starter or reliever? They will wonder how it felt to watch the Cubs bring up a pitcher from Triple-A Iowa 14 different times between his demotion last April and his September call-up.

Yet Samardzija has never really popped off about the way hes been handled by the organization.

Bury it, he said. Thats kind of just my personality. Im not gonna sit and (complain) about things that happened in the past. Thats not what I do. Its not our jobs here to worry about that. Im really not worried about any of that stuff.

Of course, you could also argue that the 26-year-old right-hander has nothing to complain about. The Cubs, after all, gave him a five-year, 10 million major-league contract to prevent him from jumping to the NFL. That will expire at seasons end, though the Cubs have club options for 2012 and 2013.

Samardzija, who is out of minor-league options, appears ticketed for the bullpen. He went 11-3 with a 4.37 ERA in 35 games 15 starts at Iowa in 2010, another supposed pivotal year for him. He could become the long man.

All I can do is be ready to pitch (and) see where the pieces fall, he said. A lot of things (can) change day-to-day in baseball, not to mention a month, a month-and-a-half. I feel great and just ready to go.

In one week, the Cubs will play their first exhibition game at HoHoKam Park and the rotation will start to spin. Forget the debate about who starts Opening Day Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza are booked for April 1-3.

The real intrigue is who emerges as the fourth and fifth starters. They started throwing live batting practice for the first time on Sunday at Fitch Park, in the middle of a driving rainstorm. It felt as chilly as an early-season game at Wrigley Field.

Carlos Silva is already on record saying that he thinks he deserves one spot. Randy Wells has made 59 starts for the Cubs across the past two seasons. The organization has great faith in Andrew Cashner and his ability to develop into a front-line starter.

Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer have long resumes that detail more than 17 years of major-league service time combined. But they are working on minor-league deals.

James Russell and Casey Coleman are two pitchers drafted and developed by the organization. They, like Samardzija across the past three years, could be stuck between Chicago and Iowa, for reasons beyond their control.

Russell is being stretched out because the Cubs do not have any other left-handed options for the rotation. At 25, he wants to start, and says he has no worries about leaving the relief role he grew into last year. What if hes ready, but theres no room?

Youre not only talking about the ballclub, but his future, manager Mike Quade said. (Do) you scrap it? Its just an important decision, both for the organization and for the kids mindset. Russell will do whatever we ask. Thats just the way he is. And thats why you feel OK doing this.

Russell could still be in play for a bullpen spot.

I want to start in the big leagues, Russell said. I just figured that was my calling. But if they want to keep me in the bullpen, I have no problem with it. I will be the long man. Ill come out, eat innings up and do whatever. I want to be playing for the Cubs.

Coleman won Quades first game as a big-league manager and went 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in eight starts for the Cubs last season. The 23-year-old walked into the room more certain of himself, while trying not to make any waves.

Youre a lot more comfortable, but not to the point where youre trying to act like youre established, Coleman said. It does a lot for your confidence. But at the same time you still have to work hard and treat it like: Im going to keep my mouth shut and be here on time and thats it.

PatrickMooney is's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs' chances against Clayton Kershaw in Game 6


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Cubs' chances against Clayton Kershaw in Game 6

David Kaplan is joined by Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield (670 The Score). 

The panel dissects another big Cubs win in the NLCS and sizes up the Northsiders' chances against Clayton Kershaw in Game 6. 

Later, Jamal Mayers has the latest on the Blackhawks and Jay Cutler may be back as the Bears' starting quarterback. 

Check out the full SportsTalk Live Podcast here: 

Bill Murray makes Cubs address from the White House

Bill Murray makes Cubs address from the White House

Actor and longtime Cubs fan Bill Murray crashed the end of the White House briefing on Friday sporting Cubs attire after his team took a 3-2 lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

Asked whether he believes the Cubs will reach their first World Series berth since 1945, Murray responded: "I feel very confident that Clayton Kershaw is a great, great pitcher, but we (Cubs) got too many sticks."

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Earlier in the day, he briefly met with President Barack Obama, a noted White Sox fan, to congratulate Murray on being the recipient of the 2016 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Murray will be honored on Sunday, but the problem is, it may interfere with Game 7 of the NLCS if the Dodgers beat the Cubs on Saturday night.

Murray will surely be cheering the loudest for the Cubs in Game 6 to avoid that conflict.

Check out the video here.