SAN DIEGO — Andrew Cashner still watches Jeff Samardzija on the clubhouse TVs. The day games at Wrigley Field are usually ending around the time the San Diego Padres are beginning their routines at Petco Park.
That’s also typically when the Cubs are melting down and wasting another strong performance from Samardzija, who leads the majors with a 1.46 ERA and still hasn’t won a game since Aug. 24, 2013, in San Diego.
Cashner knows all about Samardzija’s swagger. If things had worked out differently, the Cubs might have two of the National League’s most powerful pitchers and a rotation built for October. Instead, trading Samardzija is a foregone conclusion for a team that’s stuck in last place on Memorial Day weekend.
“He’s very confident in his abilities,” Cashner said. “That’s the kind of guy you want to build an organization around. When he walks in, he expects to win. And I guarantee you every guy on the team expects he’s going to do well and he’s going to throw a shutout or whatever. He’s going to find a way to help the team win that day.”
Of course, Samardzija’s ERA is the lowest without a win through the first 10 starts of a season by any pitcher in major-league history. Elias Sports Bureau also says he’s the first pitcher to lead his league in ERA on May 24 or later without a win since Hall of Famer/Cubs closer Bruce Sutter in 1977.
The Cubs don’t have a secret Hail Mary play drawn up to sign the former Notre Dame All-American wide receiver. Barring something completely unforeseen, Samardzija will be trying to pitch his new team into the playoffs, while the Cubs will be battling the Houston Astros for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft.
“I’m sure he doesn’t want to lose for a long time,” Cashner said. “Not that they’re going to keep losing, but I think it’s just one of those things that you got to look at if you want to sign an extension somewhere or test the free-agent market.
“I think he’s going to get even better than he is now. It’s one of those things where he’s kind of gambling on himself to probably see what he wants in free agency.”
Samardzija always thought he was going to be The Man. Even if this wasn’t his first sport and even after spending parts of three seasons at Triple-A Iowa, making Cubs fans wonder if he would be a $10 million bust.
Samardzija chose baseball when he could have been a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. He lobbied hard for the chance to start after finally establishing himself as a big-league reliever in 2011. He predicted he would become a No. 1 starter and should be paid like one.
Theo Epstein’s front office believed Samardzija had a sturdier frame to handle 200-plus innings and projected Cashner would max out as a reliever, trading him to San Diego for first baseman Anthony Rizzo in January 2012. Cashner went on the disabled list last week with right elbow soreness and irritation, highlighting those concerns, but he made it through 175 innings last season, going 10-9 with a 3.09 ERA and putting up a 2.35 ERA in nine starts this year.
Somehow, the Cubs are 1-9 in the games started by Samardzija, who’ll be going for his first win on Memorial Day against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park.
“That’s tough, but they got some good young guys coming up in the system,” Cashner said, mentioning Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. “(Samardzija’s) looked great this year. It would be fun to see him carry it all the way through the whole season.”