Despite turning down a five-year contract extension in the offseason, Jeff Samardzija sounds like he’s ready to ink a fresh deal. But his start Saturday showed why the Cubs might still be trying to figure out how much he’s worth.
Samardzija gave up three runs over six innings in a 3-0 loss to Los Angeles that set the Dodgers up for a potential sweep Sunday. Carl Crawford had the key hit, a two-out, jam-shot single to right in the sixth that drove in two to give L.A. a bit of a cushion.
The Cubs grounded into a season-high four double plays and left seven on base, continuing their offensive struggles since the trade of Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees.
But the story to focus on was Samardzija, who gave up seven hits and walked five but also stranded nine runners. The outing was frustrating and impressive at the same time, a dynamic that leaves the Cubs in a conundrum with their hard-throwing right-hander.
The Cubs listened to offers on Samardzija before the trading deadline but were only going to consider dealing him if they were blown away. Samardzija turned down that five-year extension during the offseason, presumably hoping to pitch his way to a richer deal this year.
"I've been pretty good at blanking it out to tell you the truth,” Samardzija said about talks of a trade or contract extension. “It's not the easiest thing in the world. To say that it doesn't weigh on you would be a lie. But I'm working on just going start to start, getting my mind ready and preparing to face the team I'm facing. You prove yourself out on the field, you do well out there and everything else takes care of itself. Still some room for improvement for me for sure."
Which is what the Cubs must be thinking, as well as waiting for.
“Fastball command is going to be the dictation of pretty much everybody's outing, and he didn't really have it today,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “I mean, he battled and got the outs and kept the game close, but obviously the pitch count after six innings, 110 pitches or whatever it was, is way too many."
Samardzija said a few of his five walks were strategic, as he hoped to set up double plays against weaker hitters. But the others weren’t.
"If I could take anything back, it would be those two leadoff walks to (Skip) Schumacher,” Samardzija said.
One of the walks led to a run. Walks are one of Samardzija’s biggest problems and a main reason he’s having a similar, if not slightly worse, season this year compared to last. He has more walks in 23 starts this year than he did in his 28 last season. His 3.78 ERA is barely better than last year’s 3.81, and his WHIP is a half-tenth worse.
"I'm pretty happy,” Samardzija said. “Since the break, I've thought I've thrown the ball really well. Like I said, if we take a couple walks out of there, I think the days are a little bit different. But I thought I've pitched out of some big situations and got some key outs.
"If you look at my season, the days that have been really good, the walks have been one or two. Days that have been just OK, they've been three, four, five.”
The more of the latter, the less money he can expect from the Cubs.