Results tagged ‘ Jeff Samardzija ’

Samardzija gets Opening Day nod, E-Jax set for home opener

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(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty images)

On Thursday afternoon, manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio announced the Cubs rotation for the first week of the regular season. Right-hander Jeff Samardzija will get the nod on Opening Day, April 1, at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

“That’s what I signed up for,” Samardzija said. “If you don’t want those expectations for yourself, then you may as well go play somewhere else. That’s just kind of a given. There’s going to be pressure, and there’s going to be a lot riding on what you do.”

Samardzija came into last season just hoping to land a spot in the rotation after a successful 2011 in the bullpen. This year, most see the Shark as a front-of-the-rotation guy and a possible ace. He commands five pitches and was third in the league in average fastball velocity last season. His four-seamer clocked in at 95.9 mph, and his two-seamer averaged 95.4 mph.

He’ll be followed in the first week by righty Edwin Jackson, lefty Travis Wood, righty Scot Feldman and righty Carlos Villanueva.

Jackson, who signed a four-year, $52 million contract this offseason, will get the start in the Cubs home opener April 8 against the division rival Brewers.

Both Matt Garza and offseason acquisition Scott Baker will miss the start of the season recovering from injuries.

1000 Words: For starters …

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

On Sunday, the Cubs announced that right-hander Jeff Samardzija will get the Opening Day start on April 1 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, as Matt Garza is still sidelined with a lat issue. Samardzija, 28, was a full-time starter for the first time in 2012 and finished the season with a compete-game victory over the Pirates in his last outing on Sept. 8. Overall, he went 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA in 28 starts before being shut down to limit his innings.

“From jump street, [Samardzija] had that look in his eye, that determination,” said pitching coach Chris Bosio of the Shark’s transition to the starting rotation. “There was no indication for me that he couldn’t handle it. Conditioning, the way he was talking, video breakdown, things to try, different pitches, being able to adjust into what he wanted to be and what we were looking for—a lot of credit goes to him for working his tail off.”

Hot Off the Presses: March Vine Line featuring the Shark

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The second act is always much harder than the first.

The first time around, you generally have the element of surprise on your side; there are few expectations; and, frankly, anyone can get lucky once (just ask former White Sox “ace” Esteban Loaiza).

Which is why this should be an interesting season for Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija.

It’s not like Samardzija came out of nowhere. If you weren’t familiar with him as an athletically gifted top baseball recruit, you probably knew him as an All-American wideout at Notre Dame. By the time the Cubs signed the big right-hander to a five-year, $10 million contract in 2006, he was practically a household name.

But Samardzija didn’t exactly set the world afire in Chicago. He pitched well enough in the minor leagues to advance, and looked like a world-beater when he first came up in 2008 at just 23 years old. But after he posted  a 2.28 ERA in 26 games out of the bullpen that season, things quickly took a turn for the worse.

In 2009, the Shark threw up a 7.53 ERA in 20 games (two starts). He followed that up with an 8.38 big league ERA in 2010, a season spent mostly in the minors.

If you do a Google search of Samardzija’s name from around 2011, you get headlines like “Are the Cubs Stuck with Samardzija?”,  “As a Pitcher, Samardzija Makes a Great Wide Receiver” and “Is Jeff Samardzija a Bust?”

What a difference a few years make. Samardzija came out of the gates fast in 2011 and never let up, posting an 8-4 record and a 2.97 ERA in 75 relief appearances. But his goal was to be in a big league rotation, so while everyone else had him penciled in as a bullpen fixture—and a possible future closer—Samardzija spent the offseason in Mesa, Ariz., trying to prove he could succeed as a starter.

Flash forward one year, and the headlines look a little different. Now they read, “Why Jeff Samardzija Should be the Cubs’ Opening Day Starter” and “Samardzija Has the Stuff to Be a True No. 1.”

Though Samardzija was shut down after 174.2 innings to preserve his arm and posted only a 9-13 record, he put up a 3.81 ERA in his first year in the rotation (the league average was 3.94). And there were games in which he looked as dominant as anyone in baseball, including his first and last starts of the season. Now people are talking about the Shark as a legitimate ace, and pitching coach Chris Bosio calls him one of the five or six best arms in the game.

“To go from wondering if you’re ever going to put on a Cubs jersey again two years ago to maybe being the Opening Day starter, it means a lot to me,” Samardzija said.

This month, we sat down with the Cubs fireballer to check on his mindset heading into his second year in the rotation. It’s a lot different going into camp knowing you have a job. But I think it’s safe to say: Jeff Samardzija does not get complacent.

We also look down the pipeline at how the Cubs are developing the next wave of Samardzijas. In January, the organization brought 12 of the brightest prospects in the system to Chicago to give them a feel for what life is like in the big leagues. We talked to Director of Player Development Brandon Hyde and several of the Cubs’ top prospects about how the organization preaches the Cubs Way from top to bottom to ensure that players are ready to go once they arrive at Wrigley Field.

Finally, Cactus League games are underway, and that means it’s almost the end of an era in Mesa. After 17 years at HoHoKam Stadium—and 35 years at that same location—the Cubs are saying goodbye to their spring home. We look back at what the old ballpark has meant to the team and look forward to the new park, which will be ready for the first pitch of Spring Training in 2014.

To read these stories and more, pick up the March issue of Vine Line, on sale now at select Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today. And you can follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

Now Playing: Kicking Back with the Cubs, Part 3

The major league season can be a grind. Playing 162 games takes a toll on an athlete’s body and mind. That’s why downtime is so important. Some players play video games; others spend time with their families.

This week, Vine Line had some fun with the team to dig up a few facts you won’t find on the back of a baseball card. In the last installment of our spring Kicking Back video series, we talk to Cubs players about how they spent their offseason, what they do to kill time on the road and who is the worst dresser in the clubhouse.

Here are the other videos from out Spring Training series:

Mesa Cubscast: Top Prospects on the Rise

Mesa Cubscast: Kicking Back with the Cubs, Part 2

Mesa Cubscast: The Cubs Core

Mesa Cubscast: Kicking Back with the Cubs, Part 1

Mesa Cubscast: The New Guys

Mesa Cubscast: The Coaching Staff

Samardzija gets the start in spring home opener

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Jeff Samardzija came into Spring Training last season just looking for a spot in the rotation. He comes to Arizona this year as one of the best young arms in the game and a possible Opening Day starter. On Sunday, he’ll take the hill for the Cubs in their Cactus League home opener against the defending World Champion Giants.

That’s quite a transformation for the 6-foot-5 former Notre Dame wide receiver.

As absurd as it may sound, Samardzija—yes, former million-dollar draftee turned minor league bust turned major league reliever turned frequently brilliant starter Jeff Samardzija—may be ready to take yet another step in his unusual career arc and become the piece that every team desires, a true font-of-the-rotation ace.

“Jeff was the one [in our starting staff] who matured as a pitcher [last year],” said pitching coach Chris Bosio. “[He went] from a pretty good pitcher to I think in that top five, maybe top six category as far as starters in the National League. I thought he had a very nice season, but we’re expecting bigger and better things out of Samardzija this year.”

That’s high praise for the tall right-hander, as Bosio seems ready to put him in the same category as elite pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg and Cole Hamels.

As outlandish as Bosio’s claim may sound, there are signs Samardzija may actually deserve such acclaim. Conventional wisdom among scouts is that—unless you’re Randy Johnson—you have to carry three plus pitches to be among the true number ones in baseball. Having always been blessed with one of the hardest fastballs in the game (an offering he commanded exceptionally well last season), Samardzija has finally honed his slider into an above-average pitch. He also developed a splitter that proved to be his go-to, put-away pitch when he got two strikes on an opposing hitter.

Last season, the Shark led the Cubs in games started, innings pitched, quality starts, strikeouts and complete games.

According to PITCHf/x data, of starters who tossed at least 150 innings, Samardzija was third in fastball velocity (behind Stephen Strasburg and David Price) at an average of 95.96 mph. But, naturally, you need to be able to do more than just throw a ball hard to succeed; a pitcher needs to convert that heat into strikeouts. Samardzija’s 12.1 percent swinging strike rate and 24.9 percent strikeout rate ranked sixth and seventh (minimum 150 innings), respectively, in all of baseball.

If Samardzija can improve on his career low 7.8 percent walk rate from last season (the league average usually hovers around 8.0 percent), reduce his home runs allowed (he gave up 20 long balls in 2012) and develop that all-important consistency every pitcher needs, he’ll be primed to take another big step in his development.

If and when that time comes, he’ll officially earn the label “The Man.” But the always confident Samardzija isn’t one to shy away from the spotlight.

“That’s what I signed up for,” Samardzija said. “If you don’t want those expectations for yourself, then you may as well go play somewhere else. That’s just kind of a given. There’s going to be pressure, and there’s going to be a lot riding on what you do.”

The Cubs will run out most of their projected starters today at HoHoKam against Giants righty Matt Cain. Cain is coming off another exceptional season, which saw him compile a 16-5 record and a 2.79 ERA in 32 starts. That was good for sixth in the 2012 NL Cy Young voting.

Len Kasper will broadcast today’s game on mlb.com. Here is the lineup:

CF DeJesus
SS Castro
1B Rizzo
LF Soriano
RF Schierholtz
C Navarro
DH Bogusevic
2B Barney
3B Villanueva

Now Playing: Kicking Back with the Cubs, Part 2

Being a major league baseball player can be a strange life. The stakes are always high, millions of people are watching your every move and everyone wants to be your friend. You’d be surprised the things these athletes hear on a day-to-day basis.

Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, Spring Training is a few weeks longer than usual this season. As the spring slate drags on, everyone needs to blow off some steam. Vine Line had some fun with the team to dig up a few facts you won’t find on the back of a baseball card. We’ll post one more installment of our Kicking Back video series early next week.

Here are the other videos from out Spring Training series:

Mesa Cubscast: Kicking Back with the Cubs, Part 2

Mesa Cubscast: The Cubs Core

Mesa Cubscast: Kicking Back with the Cubs, Part 1

Mesa Cubscast: The New Guys

Mesa Cubscast: The Coaching Staff

 

Now Playing: Mesa Cubscast with the Cubs core

Throughout the offseason, Cubs baseball president Theo Epstein repeatedly talked about growing the Cubs “core” of talented, young players—players the organization can count on for the long haul and who can help bring winning baseball back to Chicago. In the year-plus Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer have been with the team, that core has grown dramatically through savvy trades and smart draft picks.

“That core, at least in my mind, went from one player to half a dozen,” Epstein said shortly after the 2012 season ended. “If we can do that again in 2013, and we look up and we have close to a dozen players in our core, I’ll feel great about the overall health of the organization.”

At the major league level, the Cubs foundation now includes talented shortstop Starlin Castro, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson, and Gold Glove-winning second baseman Darwin Barney. Vine Line sat down with the some of this talented group at Spring Training to see what their expectations are for the coming season.

Now Playing: Mesa Cubscast, Kicking Back with the Cubs

Think you know everything there is to know about the 2013 Cubs? Think again.

Did you know Edwin Jackson could have been a real estate agent, Anthony Rizzo feels a kinship with Justin Timberlake, and Dave Sappelt has a little crush on a cartoon character?

Thanks to the World Baseball Classic, Spring Training is a few weeks longer than usual this season. As the spring slate drags on, everyone needs to blow off some steam. After a rain-shortened workout Wednesday, even manager Dale Sveum said, “It’s not bad to have a little breather,” from time to time.

Vine Line had some fun with the team to dig up a few facts you won’t find on the back of a baseball card. Check back later this week for more in our Kicking Back video series.

Cactus Notes: Sveum on Fitch, leadership and the future

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A steady rain drowned out most of the final day of Cubs baseball at Fitch Park on Wednesday, but there was still a little news.

The Cubs announced the starters for the opening games of their Cactus League slate, which kicks off this weekend. Travis Wood will get the Saturday start against the Los Angeles Angels in Tempe, and Jeff Samardzija will pitch the Sunday home opener against the San Francisco Giants. Carlos Villanueva will pitch Game 3 on Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Edwin Jackson will start on Tuesday against the Colorado Rockies.

Matt Garza’s debut has been pushed back due to a mild lat strain on his left side. It was announced Tuesday that he’ll likely be out about a week before resuming baseball activities.

Manager Dale Sveum also held his daily presser, despite the lack of on-field action. Here are Sveum’s best quotes from the day:

Then vs. Now
“We have a lot of the same guys in camp [from a year ago] that ended getting some time in the big leagues. But like I said yesterday, there’s just a whole different look in their eyes. Having that experience and going through some adversity with some of the young guys, it’s a whole lot different. There’s just so much more talent in camp this year than there was last year—and also depth. Guys that are very capable of pitching in the big leagues or guys that are on our radar getting really close to the big leagues. … There’s just more playable talent in camp this year.”

Leaving Fitch
“Spring Training is what it is in any park. Here it’s a little bit unique because you have to move [from Fitch to HoHoKam]. Probably my first memory here is when I had to come over here 25 years ago and rehab my leg clear across from Peoria [in extended Spring Training]. We shared it with the Cubs at that time.”

Prospect Watch (Javy Baez, Jorge Soler, Junior Lake, etc.)
“We have so many split-squad games they’re going to get quite a few games in before being sent down. There are a lot of at-bats out there.”

“I’m very anxious [to see them]. Those are the guys you talk about that are on your radar in the minor league systems that have all those God-given tools—the speed, the arm, the power, hopefully the hitting ability, meaning OPS and those things. A lot of that stuff comes a little bit later in careers. But it’s pretty special talent and bat speed those guys have. You want to see it in person and at game speed.”

Veteran Leadership
“We do have some personalities that are able to fill those [leadership] roles. I think [Anthony] Rizzo is one of those guys. I think [Darwin] Barney is ready to be that guy. Obviously Rizzo’s rookie year and Barney winning a Gold Glove—those kinds of things give you added ability to be a leader in the clubhouse because people look up to people like that. We have [Alfonso] Soriano, and [Jeff] Samardzija is going to take on that role, as well as [Matt] Garza and Edwin Jackson. So we have plenty of personalities that can do that.”

Building for the Future
“Going into this last year, you knew the plan we had, and we weren’t going to take any shortcuts to vary from it. Within a year, the whole organization has changed so dramatically for the good. You just get better players in the organization, and you create an atmosphere where people want to play here, and they want to come to this ballpark and work. That’s all you can do. That’s the transformation we’re trying to do all the time here. And it’s changed a ton in a year.”

Spring Training Preview: The Starting Five

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Finally, baseball is back. As pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training this past weekend, Cubs fans everywhere got a little more excited with the realization that the baseball season is nearing.

And to get us back into gear, the February issue of Vine Line previewed the squad heading into Mesa, Ariz. We broke the team down into five groups—starting pitching, relief pitching, infielders, outfielders and catchers—to give people a clearer picture of what the team could look like when it breaks camp and heads to Chicago.

Below is the starting rotation preview. The February issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. Or visit the Vine Line page on Cubs.com to subscribe to the magazine.


If everyone stays healthy—always a big if—the Cubs will have an abundance of starting pitching for the first time in a while. Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson and Jeff Samardzija are locks for the rotation, while Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, Travis Wood and Carlos Villanueva will battle for the final two spots. Baker, who has a 63-48 career record, underwent Tommy John surgery in April. Though he may be ready come Opening Day, the Cubs’ depth allows them to be patient with his return.

Garza’s rehab from the elbow issues that knocked him out for the final two months of 2012 appears to be on schedule, and he’s been adamant that he’ll be ready by April. A healthy Garza could build on his impressive 2011 season, in which he had a career-best 3.32 ERA and 197 strikeouts. The Cubs’ surplus of starting pitching makes the idea of parting with Garza in a trade for prospects slightly easier to stomach. That’s certainly a possibility, either in March when he’s proven he’s healthy or at the July trade deadline.

Jackson’s acquisition provides the team with a reliable innings-eater—he’s made at least 31 starts and tossed at least 180 innings in each of the last five seasons—a wildly underappreciated skill. Any manager who’s had to overuse his bullpen, like the Cubs have the past few seasons, will tell you how much he appreciates having a pitcher he can rely on to deliver six quality innings every fifth day.

Feldman and Wood both have the ability to be competent starters, and Villanueva showed flashes of brilliance last season, including an impressive 22.9 percent strikeout rate and 6.7 percent walk rate in 92 innings as a starter. However, he has yet to prove he can deliver those numbers over 160-plus innings.

The real breakout star in the rotation may be Samardzija, whose road to this point has been bumpy. In the span of two seasons, Samardzija has gone from failed prospect, to reliable bullpen arm, to possible future ace, thanks to his dogged work ethic and electric arm. Samardzija will have no innings limit in 2013, so it’s a good bet he’ll take another step forward and become the anchor for a rotation that has the potential to be the team’s strength.

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