Cubs: As Matt Harvey goes down, Jeff Samardzija hopes to finish strong

Cubs: As Matt Harvey goes down, Jeff Samardzija hopes to finish strong
August 26, 2013, 11:45 pm
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LOS ANGELES – Jeff Samardzija watched film of Matt Harvey while breaking down National League East opponents, trying to put together scouting reports. They are both bright-lights, big-city personalities who are supposed to be front-and-center for rebuilding teams.

But no one knows when the New York Mets will get their ace back after Monday’s potentially franchise-altering news that Harvey has a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, a likely precursor to Tommy John surgery.

The Cubs believe Samardzija is a good bet for the future, given his 6-foot-5, 225-pound frame, a right arm that stayed fresher while concentrating on football and the athleticism that helped him become an All-American wide receiver at Notre Dame.

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Still, the human body wasn’t designed to throw a baseball over and over at 95 mph. Samardzija called Harvey’s injury “unfortunate,” and there is a certain amount of luck involved in all this.

“He had the best stuff in the game,” Samardzija said at Dodger Stadium. “Trying to get a scouting report is kind of tough, to tell you the truth, because you have a 97 mph four-seamer with a 92 mph slider and a nasty changeup. So he’s fun to watch. But this isn’t the first time this happened to somebody. It seems like he has a real hard work ethic and will be back 100 percent in no time.”

Samardzija and Miami Marlins phenom Jose Fernandez had just been named the N.L.’s co-players of the week. Samardzija notched a complete-game, 11-1 victory over the Washington Nationals before beating the San Diego Padres over the weekend, going eight innings in a 3-2 win.

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Samardzija (8-11, 4.03 ERA) is approaching 200-innings-and-200-strikeouts territory. Those numbers validate his lobbying to become a starter, as well as the strategic decision to hold off on any serious long-term contract talks.

But if Samardzija is entering uncharted waters – that’s one metaphor the Cubs used in explaining the shutdown last September – then he could also be nearing the iceberg. He’s never been on the disabled list and didn’t want last year to end at 174.2 innings. He’s at 176.1 innings now, with about six starts left this season.

“Everyone’s different,” Samardzija said. “You don’t know how guys are made up. (Harvey’s) a young kid, just (24 years old). I was 27 (last season). I had thrown a lot of innings when I was with (manager Lou Piniella). In ’11, I got up and down a lot and had a lot of appearances, so my arm had a lot of wear and tear on it, but it was just in a different way. (That’s) a different kind of toll.”

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The Mets loved seeing Harvey as this summer’s All-Star Game starter at Citi Field and the buzz he generated among their fans.

Their games are built around power, with Harvey’s fastball averaging the highest velocity (95.4 mph) among qualified starters in the majors this season, while Samardzija ranks right there with Fernandez (94.7), trailing Washington Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg (95.3), according to the online database at FanGraphs.

“Nothing’s done yet,” Samardzija said. “All this is something that I’d like to talk about when it’s all said and done. Not that I’m a superstitious guy, but that’s just the way it has to be. When it’s all said and done, you can close the book and start making comparisons.

“But right now, it doesn’t mean anything. We still have a whole ‘nother month left in the season with a lot of important games in there, too.”

And as a reporter tried to think of another way to ask the same question again, Samardzija said, “No, it’s not a bargaining chip.”