Jeff Samardzija set off some fireworks in a crosstown rivalry that had become way too boring. This seems to happen when the Cubs come to the South Side.
Standing in the visiting clubhouse where Lou Piniella once cursed out Milton Bradley in the tunnel, just off the dugout where Carlos Zambrano attacked Derrek Lee, Samardzija responded to the second-guessing after he threw a career-high 126 pitches in Monday night’s loss to the White Sox.
Samardzija took aim at Theo Epstein’s front office, exposing the behind-the-scenes tension as the Cubs prepare to eventually trade their Opening Day starter this summer.
“This is an on-field issue for uniform personnel,” Samardzija said Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field. “That’s all there is to it. I’m a grown man. I’m 29. I’m not a prospect or 22. I feel good. I think I’m grown up enough and responsible enough to understand when I can go and when I can’t go.
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“I’m going to go off that. I’ve earned my right in athletics to be able to understand my body and where I’m at.”
Samardzija channeled Kenny Williams, subtly paraphrasing the way the White Sox executive once fired back at Frank Thomas: Stay out of Cubbie business.
The day before, manager Rick Renteria listened to multiple follow-up questions about Samardzija during a pregame media session that lasted 15 minutes. Renteria has a tendency to filibuster, but this became the takeaway: “I couldn’t tell you I’d do it again.”
During batting practice, general manager Jed Hoyer spoke with a few reporters in Wrigley Field’s home dugout and acknowledged the Cubs would have to monitor Samardzija’s pitch counts, because ideally they wouldn’t see someone throw 126 in nine innings on a frigid night.
Samardzija said he hadn’t paid much attention to what’s now a three-day story, but could tell by all the reporters surrounding his locker and the tone of the questions.
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“I don’t really know (the response from) the front office,” Samardzija said. “I didn’t hear anything or read anything. But just from what it’s sounding like, there was a response. For me, it’s just something that we need to handle here in the clubhouse.
“If Ricky didn’t like how many pitches I threw, then he’ll come up to me and tell me: ‘Hey, Jeff, that might not happen again, so enjoy it while you can.’ Which I’m fine with. But that’s something that we need to talk about. I’m a grown-up. I can handle news like that.
“I trust Ricky. I know Ricky is a very honest man and he’s going to shoot me straight and that’s all I ask for – because he knows he’s going to get the same from me. If I don’t feel good, I’m going to tell him. If I feel good, I’m going to tell him that, too.
“It’s his butt on the line when it comes to those decisions, so he has the right to make the decision that he feels is necessary.”
Samardzija’s camp and Cubs executives generally understand where the other side is coming from in the stalled contract negotiations that will almost certainly lead to a trade by July 31. It’s more business than personal. But there’s also been haggling over arbitration numbers, different interpretations of long-term value, public posturing and the inevitable frustration surrounding a last-place team.
“I’m pretty sure the only people it concerned were me, (pitching coach Chris Bosio) and Rick,” Samardzija said. “I thought we all were on the same page with what happened.
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“From the beginning of spring training, I talked to (Rick) and I told him I like to pitch. I like to throw a lot of pitches. I just ask that we have good communication between each other during the game and that’s it. We did exactly that.
“We knew where we were at and we felt great. So that’s what you want – confidence from the coaches. Those three people are the only (ones) it concerned.”
Samardzija has a 1.62 ERA through seven starts – and zero wins and three losses to show for it. He probably would have been annoyed if he got pulled after eight innings. Cubs executives have to protect their asset – maybe from himself.
Samardzija dismissed a comparison to White Sox ace Chris Sale, who threw 127 pitches across seven innings in a loss to the Boston Red Sox on April 17 – and is now on the disabled list with a flexor muscle strain.
“It’s different for everybody,” Samardzija said. “You don’t bring kids up through the system and coach every kid the same. There’s different things you do for different guys. Do I want to go out and throw 128 pitches every time? Absolutely not. Hell no.
“But there are times (when it’s called for) and times when it needs to get done and someone’s got to do it. It’s unfortunate that we’re getting to a point in the game to where this is becoming news.
“It should be the other way around: ‘Why did this guy only throw 75 pitches and then come out of the game after five innings? What’s that about?’ I just think the light’s in the wrong direction.”