PHILADELPHIA – Jeff Samardzija wanted the pressure of another prove-it year, feeling confident he would become a frontline guy and should be paid like one.
Samardzija is so far past the point where every start feels like an audition or a referendum on his career choices. But this is also the type of game a No. 1 starter should win – for the series on getaway day against a dead team walking.
The Philadelphia Phillies rocked Samardzija on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. So much for saving the Cubs bullpen: After a 12-1 loss, even he had to admit, “A lot of questions to answer.”
But that swagger still frames the final seven weeks of this season, leading up to what could be a defining winter for a Chicago guy who wants to be part of the next Cubs team that owns the city and sells out Wrigley Field in October.
“They’re big to me just as a competitor. Period,” Samardzija said after giving up nine runs on 11 hits in 3.1 innings. “Any time you have a rough outing, you always want (to) bounce back with a strong one. Finishing strong for me is just always a big thing in anything you do.
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“The hard work you put in the offseason, the hard work you put in during the year, you want it to pay off with results.”
The Cubs (50-64) aren’t seeing the results now. Everything snowballed on Samardzija, from Cody Asche’s double that went just out of Junior Lake’s reach in the second inning, to John Mayberry Jr.’s RBI infield single bouncing past his right hand.
It was not being able to put away Darin Ruf with two outs and two strikes in the third inning. (Ruf hammered a 94 mph fastball into the left-field seats for a two-run homer.) It was throwing to third base and not getting the out in a six-run fourth inning for the Phillies (52-62).
“I’m not that concerned,” manager Dale Sveum said. “A couple mistakes could change that whole game around."
Samardzija is now 6-11 with a 4.23 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 153.1 innings. His position hasn’t really changed since last offseason, when Theo Epstein’s front office approached his camp about a possible extension: He simply wants another season under his belt before determining his value.
If there wasn’t much urgency then, there will be soon, because the Cubs are looking at the clock, seeing only two more years of club control and the trade-deadline scenarios they already ran through with Matt Garza.
Samardzija already made millions after turning down the NFL, and he’s wired differently than Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, two core players who have signed long-term deals within the past year.
As Sveum said: “When you have guys like Samardzija, to get those contracts and know you’re going to have him for an extended period of time is big to the organization. It’s big to the guys in the clubhouse as well as myself."
Samardzija will turn 29 before pitchers and catcher report to Arizona next February. But his right arm also doesn’t have the same kind of mileage after concentrating on football through his All-American career at Notre Dame.
“He’s a little different, because he had such an odd path,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “This is a guy that last year in spring training we were debating whether or not he could be a starter.
“You can probably take the fresh-arm thing too far and the inexperience thing too far, but at some point you are your age. I think we probably look at him a little differently because he hasn’t thrown quite as many innings.”
This nine-run performance matched the one Samardzija had on July 10 against the Los Angeles Angels. His ERA has climbed from 2.85 at the beginning of June to 4.23 now. He’s already walked more guys this year (59) than he did last year (56).
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Samardzija worked with pitching coach Chris Bosio during the All-Star break and came out strong, beating the Colorado Rockies 3-1. After throwing 7.1 innings at Coors Field, he said it was the first time he really felt locked in mechanically all season, and hoped he wouldn’t have to keep making the same adjustments.
“We’re not done yet. We’re not going to try and sum it up quite yet,” Samardzija said. “You try and take that next step as a starter in your second year. Two years ago, I wouldn’t say my mechanics were off if it was the same as this year. It’s just expecting more out of myself.”
Something clicked for Samardzija in the second half of last season, when he posted a 2.58 ERA in 11 starts after the All-Star break, and before getting shutdown in September. He could use another strong finish.
“All that stuff takes care of itself in the long run,” Sveum said. “When you’re good, you get paid. If you’re not very good, you don’t get paid. That’s the bottom line.”