So far, Samardzija is living up to the hype

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So far, Samardzija is living up to the hype

CINCINNATI Jeff Samardzija lobbied hard to get this, and so far hes backed up all the talk about wanting to be in the rotation.

Theres probably too much instant analysis, too much fun with small sample sizes, but this is an everyday business. If Samardzija had gotten off to a slow start, the Cubs would have to spin how he has the right stuff, but is still learning on the job.

Theres no need when Samardzija is dealing like this, getting strike one with his fastball, mixing in his slider, finishing off hitters with his splitter and getting it up around 94 to 98 mph the entire game.

The education of Samardzija continued with Wednesdays 3-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. He didnt give up a hit until the fourth inning, and left with two outs in the eighth. He allowed one run on three hits and struck out seven.

It seems like things just keep getting more and more important, Samardzija said. It was important to have a big spring. It was important to have a good start and then as the season goes on, its going to be important to finish strong.

Its a game where you got to keep proving yourself. (You) cant get complacent and think your spots safe. Someones always nipping at your toes and you just got to keep pushing.

Through five starts, Samardzija is 3-1 with a 3.41 ERA and 32 strikeouts against 10 walks in 31.2 innings. He was pushed back a day and got another one because of Tuesdays rainout. The Cubs already have a plan in place thats going to monitor his workload as he transitions out of the bullpen.

There are going to be nights where its 87 degrees at first pitch and it all comes together. Ian Stewart whos hitting .173 and hadnt homered in almost three weeks drilled one 363 feet into the right-field seats.

Geovany Soto (.155) picked up his second RBI of the season with a single to left that gave the Cubs an insurance run in the sixth inning. Enigmatic closer Carlos Marmol worked a one-two-three ninth to earn his second save and finish off the Reds (11-12).

The Cubs (9-15) are only 24 games into the season, with 85 percent of the schedule still remaining.

Stewart had a tough year last year, Sveum said. But we didnt pick him up to give him 25 days (as) a chance, especially when (he) can be a two-way player. Its way too early, the weathers just starting to warm up (and) theres plenty of guys struggling.

(Albert) Pujols doesnt even have a home run yet. Prince Fielders hit one since the second day of the season. So its way too early to even think about any change or anything like that.

Sveum never got the job offer he sensed was coming from the Boston Red Sox last November. He took this one knowing it would come with a long runway. This is not the win-now team, and hes wired to be patient.

Ive been around too long to see the panic, Sveum said. These guys do have somewhat of a track record. Its not the elite track records, but they have put up good numbers and had good years in the big leagues.

I dont care what month it is, but everybody in this league is pretty much going to struggle for one month, if not two, out of the six months with their everyday players.

Realistically, the Cubs are looking at a rebuilding process that will take years. But having a one-two punch of Matt Garza and Samardzija at the top of the rotation could accelerate everything.

We didnt have the team meeting that said this is a rebuilding year, Samardzija said. We just kind of skipped that altogether. We want to win games. Every day you get a new chance to win a game.

We might have to do it a different way than, say, the Yankees or somebody (else). But pitching and defense goes a long way.

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

Kyle Schwarber catching again is a good step for a banged-up Cubs team

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs are so strong up the middle that Javier Baez can star for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic and return to camp as a super-utility guy/late-game defensive replacement. 

But that projection in late March is based on across-the-board health, which never happens in a 162-game season. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (stiff neck) hasn't played in a Cactus League game in almost a week. All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) became a late scratch to Friday's lineup at Sloan Park.

After trying to make a diving catch in center field, Albert Almora Jr. exited in the third inning of a 4-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians with what the Cubs called "left neck tightness," though he still plans to play in Las Vegas this weekend.  

On the other side of the spring-training complex in Mesa – away from the crowd of 15,473 in a minor-league game against a Colorado Rockies squad – the Cubs did get a positive piece of news on the health front: Kyle Schwarber went four innings behind the plate, going Tony Pena style and trying to reduce the stress on his body.

"I love catching," Schwarber said. "Whenever I played baseball, I was always a catcher. For me to be able to do that today – and feel pretty good about myself walking away from the day – it was a good step."

This is clearly important to Schwarber, an intensely driven personality who doesn't want to hear "no." Otherwise, the Cubs probably would have shut this down already, not wanting to risk it with a franchise player, someone who might blast 35 homers at the top of their lineup.

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But the medical staff cleared Schwarber when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona – 10 months after he underwent surgery on his left knee to reconstruct his ACL and repair his LCL – and it could become a valuable skill again. 

"The most difficult part I would probably say was setup-wise," Schwarber said, "trying to find that timing of your moves and everything like that. Sometimes I felt like I was a little late getting my setup. But that all came. It's been a year since I got behind there, so overall everything went really well."

The Cubs already have one of the best young catchers in the game (Willson Contreras) and a two-time All-Star making $14 million this season backing him up (Miguel Montero). Schwarber doesn't want to put a number on how many starts he might make behind the plate, though the Cubs have framed it as in case of emergency, an extra late-inning option for manager Joe Maddon or maybe something that makes sense with a particular matchup. 

"As of right now, it's still the third-catcher role," Schwarber said. "I'm down for whatever, but I know the majority of the time is going to be out there in left."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Mark Sanchez officially signs with Bears

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Mark Sanchez officially signs with Bears

On the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Chris Emma, Seth Gruen and Danny Ecker join David Kaplan to discuss the Mark Sanchez signing. Does this mean the Bears won't draft a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft? 

Later, the White Sox named Jose Quintana their Opening Day starter, but lose Carlos Rodon and Todd Frazier to injuries. 

Finally, Robin Lopez is back after serving a one-game suspension. The panel looks at the Bulls matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below.