If Jeff Samardzija daydreams about pitching for a contender in a pennant race, he’s also come to understand that you have to show up every day if you want to get paid like a No. 1 starter.
It would be more fun for Cubs fans and the Chicago media if the conversation was about surrounding Samardzija with more big-league players, not wondering which front offices have enough pitching prospects and the right mix of confidence/desperation.
Think about the Bulls and all those Carmelo Anthony/Kevin Love rumors. But every Samardzija start is viewed in the context of: How many more does he have left in a Cubs uniform? And where will he be pitching next?
Samardzija again showed why he could help someone get to October – and how he’s evolved as a pitcher – in Monday night’s 6-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. Not enough offense, a bullpen meltdown and all those empty seats – you could see why the Cubs (31-43) will be sellers and Samardzija would enjoy a bigger stage.
“I love to pitch in big games,” Samardzija said. “I love to pitch in games where I can’t sleep the night before. Those days when you’re up ‘til 3, 4 in the morning and you have a day game the next day. You know it’s a big game. Those are fun. And I’ve learned over the last couple years that every start is important.”
Samardzija didn’t let this one snowball, needing 23 pitches to get through the first inning and minimizing the damage (one run). He lasted six innings, giving up that one run and keeping his team in the game before closer Hector Rondon unraveled in the ninth. He also twice hit Devin Mesoraco, who got even with a grand slam off Rondon in the decisive final inning.
This wasn’t Opening Day or a crosstown game against the White Sox or a marquee opponent like the New York Yankees. Samardzija credited ex-manager Dale Sveum, whose brutal honesty wasn’t always appreciated inside the clubhouse or the front office:
“I remember Dale getting on me because he came out and told me: ‘Sometimes in the big games he shows up, and other times he’s not there.’ That really got under my skin, and since then I’ve always tried to not be that guy.”
If the Cubs were slow to come around to Samardzija’s way of thinking about a long-term contract – there are indications the reported five-year, $85 million concept might have been able to get it done over the winter – they also had concerns about his up-and-down season.
Even while hitting 200 innings/200 strikeouts last year, Samardzija (8-13, 4.34 ERA in 2013) had trouble staying consistent and making quicker adjustments. Focus hasn’t been an issue, even with so much speculation about his future.
“He’s being a professional,” said Anthony Rizzo, who generated all the offense by crushing his 16th homer into the left-field bleachers. “The last few years, all the guys that have been going through it have been professionals as well. I’m sure it’s not easy reading where he’s going, when he’s going, who’s he’s going with, who (the Cubs) are getting if he does get traded.
“It’s just a distraction.”
Samardzija has said all the right things during his state-of-the-team addresses, and masked most of his frustrations throughout a numbing start that’s left him with a 2-6 record, a 2.53 ERA, All-Star credentials and a regular spot on MLBTradeRumors.com.
But Samardzija snapped after failing to lay down a bunt in the third inning. Darwin Barney’s leadoff double had disappeared into the ivy. Samardzija popped out to charging first baseman Joey Votto, lifted his left knee and broke the bat over his leg.
Did Samardzija study Carlos Zambrano’s bat-breaking moves?
“Nope. I learned that probably from my father back in the day,” Samardzija said. “You really want to get that guy over. That’s my fault, and I just get frustrated when I don’t do my job.”
Samardzija shouldn’t have any problems getting up for games later this summer.
“I’m working on it,” Samardzija said. “But I guess if you’re going to have one failure, I’d rather be good in the big games than the other way around.”