Jeff Samardzija feels like he’s just getting started.
That’s why Samardzija intends to test the free-agent market after the 2015 season, no matter what happens this summer, because he believes he’s just scratching the surface of his potential. That’s why Cubs fans will be thinking “Now what?” when a homegrown guy keeps pitching like an ace – in a pennant race in a different uniform – while the Chicago media counts down to 100 losses.
It got lost in all the Pitch-Count-Gate filibustering, but Samardzija is becoming exactly what the Jim Hendry administration hoped for after making that $10 million bet on a Notre Dame wide receiver. And what Theo Epstein’s front office projected could be possible after listening to Samardzija lobby for the chance to start after a breakthrough season as a reliever in 2011.
Samardzija woke up on Friday with a 1.62 ERA that ranked second in the National League, a 1.12 WHIP and “only” 38 strikeouts in 50 innings, another sign he’s becoming more decisive and more efficient. But he’ll still be looking for his first win when he faces the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night at Turner Field.
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So about those 126 pitches in a nine-inning, one-unearned-run no-decision against the White Sox…
“The scary thing is that feels pretty comfortable for me,” Samardzija said. “Obviously, I’m not expecting to go nine all the time, but it’s just the control of the game and control of myself, which has always been my biggest battle.
“It’s being able to go pitch-to-pitch and not all of a sudden find myself in 3-1 holes and walking two, three guys. Any time I can stay in the now when I’m on the mound, I know I’m going to have a good day.”
In one sense, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer was right when he said this story didn’t need to stretch from Monday night into Friday’s newspapers and “should probably die.”
But in many ways, the frustration inside the organization is The Story, because Rick Renteria is the fourth different manager in the last five seasons and Samardzija is one of the few big names left inside the clubhouse. A Samardzija one-liner summed up the tension: “This is an on-field issue for uniform personnel.”
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This is definitely losing now to hopefully win later, holding another fire sale at the trade deadline and enduring the austerity program that has impacted every negotiation and slashed the on-field product to around $75 million this season (minus the Alfonso Soriano subsidy for the New York Yankees).
Samardzija is a “grown man” (just ask him). But it’s interesting to look back on how much he’s grown since Opening Day 2010 at Turner Field, where the Cubs had a payroll pushing $145 million and he was a mop-up guy, giving up six runs in an ugly 16-5 loss to the Braves.
After Game 2 in Atlanta – annoyed by a one-run loss, some hecklers in the stands and his media session – Lou Piniella’s screaming could be heard through the closed door and the walls of the manager’s office.
Near the end of that month, Piniella refused to break the news to Samardzija when the Cubs demoted him to Triple-A Iowa, feeling like the organization had messed with his development. Larry Rothschild, the pitching coach at the time, had to make the phone call.
At that time, a pitch-count story would barely register on the scale of Cubbie Occurrences. But weird stuff happens to this team at Turner Field.
Remember Carlos Zambrano cleaning out his locker and “retiring” in 2011? Or Matt Garza’s “Crapshow” Declaration in 2012? Or The Upton Brothers hitting back-to-back bombs off Carlos Marmol, forcing Dale Sveum to drop his closer five games into last season?
[ALSO: Hoyer on Samardzija pitch-count story: ‘should probably die’]
So stay tuned to see what happens with Samardzija – who hasn’t won a game since last August – on Saturday night at 755 Hank Aaron Drive.
“I don’t think you need wins in this day and age to be considered a top-of-the-rotation pitcher,” Hoyer said. “The win stat is a dangerous thing. People really focus on it as an assessment of your value and I think we’ve kind of gotten past that. We’ve gotten past that when it comes to how we compensate pitchers. We’ve gotten past that in Cy Young voting with a guy like Felix Hernandez.”
King Felix earned his Cy Young crown with a 101-loss Seattle Mariners team in 2010. Hernandez went 13-12 with a 2.27 ERA, putting up 232 strikeouts in 249.2 innings.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in baseball that looks at Jeff Samardzija and thinks he’s not having a great year, despite the fact that he has no wins,” Hoyer said. “On a personal level, yeah, I feel for him. That 100th anniversary game (at Wrigley) – that’s a pretty easy win. (But) that’s the breaks. I just hope he realizes that, while frustrating, it certainly doesn’t lessen the way people think about him in today’s day and age.”
Samardzija definitely thinks the win stat matters, but he can zing the front office and get frustrated by all the losing and still see the big picture.
“That’s the funny thing about this game,” Samardzija said. “When you go out and do your business all the time, you see guys hitting line drives to the outfield during 0-for-20 streaks and things like that. That turns, as long as you don’t let it get to you. If you keep karma on your side and keep working hard, usually it turns around. That’s what I’m expecting. I’m going to do everything in my power to make it happen.”