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Jeff Samardzija has made no secret of his desire to be a starting pitcher with the Chicago Cubs. Year after year, Samardzija openly hopes for an opportunity to start – some years, in the minors, mostly, he gets the chance, some years he doesn’t. When he was a bit younger, it would have been fair to describe his desire and resulting attitude as petulant.

But, in 2011, if not before, Samardzija took to his role in the bullpen, both attitudinally and in performance. Perhaps more impressively, Samardzija got better and better as the year went on. In total, he threw 88 innings with a 2.97 ERA and a 1.295 WHIP, striking out 87, which is excellent. But in the second half, his ERA was a scant 2.23, and the WHIP dropped to 1.156, primarily because he stopped walking guys.

And now, as Theo and Jed have said, Samardzija – who has been working hard at Camp Bussy this Winter – will be stretched out this Spring to have a chance to start in 2012.

“That’s all I asked for when I sat down with Theo and Dale,” Samardzija said to Bruce Levine about the chance to start this year. “I told them I am very confident, and that my command and slider control are where they need to be in order to be successful as a starter. With an opportunity, I am sure I can handle it from there.”

Samardzija is excited about the direction of the franchise, and looks forward to being a part of the change.

“Right now I am doing what I need to in order to be ready for Spring Training,” Samardzija said. “So far the feeling I get is these new people have a plan and they are sticking to. That is exciting to me. They have a plan and are not running around like chickens with their heads chopped off. It is good to see they are building a strong foundation and going from there.”

Samardzija will compete with a number of others vying for spots in an already-tight rotation. Among the starting options, before Samardzija enters the fray, are Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Paul Maholm, Chris Volstad, Casey Coleman, Rodrigo Lopez, and Andy Sonnanstine.

If one the NL East’s top talent evaluator’s is right, Samardzija could elbow his way in:

“He was the most improved pitcher I saw from April till September last year,” the scout said. “His mound presence and breaking ball are top drawer. The guy looked as good as any young relief pitcher in the game.”

I don’t know why Samardzija got such a bad rap last year, when he was actually quite good. He could be even better in 2012.

  • Fishin Phil

    Nothing would make me happier than seeing him finally succeed as a starter.

  • die hard

    his future as a starter depends on one more pitch and developing a knack of setting up hitters for 2nd and hopefully 3rd time around batting order…is easy to get them out first time thru…which is why I think Wood was retained in order to tutor him on being a starter…Wood is going to be asst pitching coach

  • Michael R

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I like the fact that Samardzija is getting his shot. If all else fails, he goes back in the pen. It is a win-win for the Cubs. The fact that the Cubs new regime is looking at the rotation and trying to get 9 or 10 candidates, tells me they know where the problems are and how to fix them. This is a good move. At the minimum, he could be decent in the pen or rotation and draw some trade interest at the deadline.

    • Dave

      Why would the Cubs want to trade him? We already know he can be successful in the pen. If he can carry that over as a starting pitcher he will be all the more valuable to this team and be a part of any successs going forward.

  • Spencer

    Give him a chance.

    • die hard

      Give Samardzija a Chance
      – John Lennon (adaptation of Give Peace a Chance)

      Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout
      Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism, Cubbism
      This-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism
      All we are saying is give Samardzija a chance
      All we are saying is give him a chance

      (C’mon)
      Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout
      Minister, Sinister, Banisters and Canisters, Pitchers,
      Bishops, Fishops, Rabbis, and Pop Eyes, Bye bye, Bye byes
      All we are saying is give Samardzija a chance
      All we are saying is give him a chance

      (Let me tell you now)
      Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout
      Revolution, Evolution, Flagellation, Regulation, Starting Rotations
      Integrations, mediations, United Nations, congratulations
      All we are saying is give Samardzija a chance
      All we are saying is give him a chance

      Ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout
      John and Yoko, Timmy Leary, Rosemary, Garza,
      Tommy Smothers, Bobby Dylan, Tommy Cooper,
      Derek Taylor, Norman Mailer, Alan Ginsberg, Hare Krishna
      Hare Hare Krishna
      All we are saying is give Samardzija a chance
      All we are saying is give him a chance

      • wilbur

        Way to go DH

  • Andy

    An alright-tight rotation and a bat rap…time for some coffee Brett!

    There is no harm in giving him a chance to be a starter. If he has a mediocre spring training, he will be ready for a long-relief role or maybe a set-up role. I for one think he has the stuff to be a good middle of the rotation starter.

  • chris margetis

    While I never could stand him based on his tenure at ND, he always struck me as a guy who lacked some confidence on the mound. He also strikes me as a guy who, once he finds the confidence, improves by leaps and bounds. Here’ to hoping that’s the case and he’s found the confidence.

    • John Breslin

      why didn’t you like him at ND? He was a great wide receiver, and was always a good guy.

  • OlderStyle

    “They have a plan and are not running around like chickens with their heads chopped off.”

    What kind of indictment is this on previous regime? I believe it was Hendry who gave him his very generous signing bonus.

    • John Breslin

      I don’t think this was intended to say anything about the previous regime; rather, it notes that some “new guys” might be running around without a plan.

  • EQ76

    I guess Samardzija is the new Cashner.

    • TWC

      No, Samardzija is the new Orel Hersheiser.

    • BetterNews

      Yes.

  • mpope30

    Pretty sure I just read this article yesterday. ESPN Chicago…..

    • http://CubbiesCrib.com Luke

      It almost sounds like you’re accusing Brett of plagiarism, and that’s just nonsense. He linked back to that ESPN Chicago story in his article since that piece is the basis for his article, but they are not the same story by any stretch of the imagination.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      You mean the one linked in the post? The only things that are the same are the quotes … (hence the generous, though not required, link).

      • mpope30

        Sorry, wasn’t trying to sound negative. After reading it back I can see how it sounded. Probably not the best decision for my first comment. I love your site and am on here constantly.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          You’re fine, and thanks. I just wanted to make sure it was clear to anyone else who didn’t know where the quotes came from. I should be more clear in the future.

  • T C

    My biggest worry with him is that he’s only got two pitches, really – fastball, slider. Those guys *very* rarely end up being effective starters because there’s so little they can do to fill hitters after the first time through the lineup. If he were to keep throwing 97, it could work, but as a starter he’s gonna sit at 91-93, which is eminently more hittable, and makes it easier for hitters to lay off of his better pitches.

    I hope it works out for him, but I simply can’t see it

  • MoneyBoy

    Nope – he added a cutter last year, courtesy of KWood.  Turned out to be very effective.

    • T C

      a cutter is still a fastball, it just darts a bit at the end. Its somewhat more effective, but it’s still just a fastball

      • Jim

        It can be just as effective as a good change up. If it’s coming out of his hand looking like a straight fastball it has the same effect on the hitter.

        • T C

          Not really, though, cause it’s still coming at him at the same speed. He probably won’t be able to square up on it as well. but it’s not gonna throw off his timing at all – that’s where a changeup becomes so effective

          • http://www.deliciousmarmolade.blogspot.com Kyle Johansen

            Are you forgetting his split finger? Other than his slider, the split finger was his most effective pitch last year. With the heat, cutter, slider and split finger, he has plenty in his repertoire to work as a starter.

            • Jim

              I agree. When his split is on it is pretty nasty.

            • T C

              Fastball cutter and splitter are all fastballs. It works as a reliever cause hitters only see it once, and the different movements fool them, but without a true third pitch it will be very difficult for him to fool batters after the first time through a lineup

              • Jim

                Tell that to dempster. He uses his split like a change and has been pretty effective with it.

              • http://www.deliciousmarmolade.blogspot.com Kyle Johansen

                Other than the fact that a splitter looks like a change, only with more action, and was clocked at an average of 86 MPH compared to 93-95 MPH. A splitter is without a doubt, a true third pitch.

                • T C

                  The problem with that is he isn’t going to be throwing 93-95 as a starter. He’ll be sitting at 91-93, and now everything’s a lot closer together.

                  You know who that all reminds me of? Jason Marquis. He threw like 4 pitches that were 83-91, and he consistently got his shit rocked, cause he couldn’t keep people off balance.

                  Samardzjia’s stuff worked last year cause he could come out and blow people away. That doesn’t fly as a starter

                  • Mick

                    Jason Marquis??? Marquis’ fastball is or never was close to Samardzjia’s. I’d compare Samardzjia more to Justin Masterson. Big guy, good mound prescence, fastball that moves, and a huge slider/hook. If Samardzjia can keep developing his secondary pitches he’s got # 2-3 SP written all over him. I hope we can move Garza and Wells to give this kid some room to grow.

                  • http://www.deliciousmarmolade.blogspot.com Kyle Johansen

                    Really, Jason Marquis? Come on now, so his fastball goes from 95 to 93, big deal. When you combine that with a cutter at 88, a splitter at 86 and a slider at 84 there is plenty to keep hitters off balance.

                    Sounds like you just don’t like the guy, which is fine, I didn’t like him at all before last year. When he had no idea where the ball was going he seemed utterly hopeless, however, he finally learned some command last year and that is the key.

                    If he can command these pitches, he clearly has the stuff to be a successful starter. If he can’t command his pitches, he’ll be relegated to middle relief.

                    • Kansas Cubs Fan

                      Some real baseball talk here.

                      I don’t know much about how long it takes to develop a new pitch, but who’s to say he hasn’t been working on a true curve this offseason?

                    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                      I’d think it takes about a day to learn a new pitch … and substantially longer to get it to the place where it can get ML hitters out.

      • MoneyBoy

        Brett – I may have mentioned before, but I traveled to TN to see his first start for the AA club. The pic you put up shows how thoroughly his mechanics have been reworked and improved.  IMHO he’s able to repeat his delivery and, with the new mechanics, actually added a few MPH to his FB.  What came with all that was, to me, improved confidence. I don’t do numbers like you but I go by what I saw.   He certainly has the makeup and has shown a revived and much more effective delivery.  I’m pulling for the kid – if for no other reason that he got jerked around by Lou.

        @TC – Agreed.  I don’t know if you can count it as a 3rd pitch and if he’d throw it enough to make it one.  Just thought the cutter helped him a great deal 2nd half when he added it.

        • Jim

          Do you think Rivera’s cuter is as effective as a change up? Just because it’s a similar speed to his fastball doesn’t mean it can’t be an effective third pitch. As long as it’s deceptive, I think it’s enough to work with the slider and fastball.

          • T C

            Rivera’s cutter is so effective because players only get to see it once, maybe a few times per year cause he’s a closer. If he were a starter, it’d be an entirely different story. (also, his cutter isn’t nearly Rivera-level) If you can think of a starter who basically throws 91-93 mph fastballs and 80-84mph sliders and succeeds, let me know.

        • http://www.deliciousmarmolade.blogspot.com Kyle Johansen

          You’re definitely correct on the fastball velocity. According to Fan Graphs, his average fastball velocity increased from 93.3 in 2010 to 95.1 last year.

      • ferrets_bueller

        Tell that to Mo Rivera.

      • KJ

        Don’t forget Greg Maddux was only throwing 85 mph and look how he turned out. Its all about location and not speed sometimes.

        • Kyle

          Greg Maddux came to the big leagues with a low-90s fastball.

  • BD

    Please stop including Casey Coleman in the list of our SP options. That is all.

    • ferrets_bueller

      Yes, please. Although it is nice for comic relief at times.

  • OHBearCub

    He was hurried up to the Major League because they paid him $6M. If he would have been allowed to develop properly he would be fully developed now. But learning on the job was something he actually took to fairly well. He has nice movement on his fastball if he keeps it down he is tuff to hit. If he has developed an off speed pitch to go with his slider he could be very good. If he has a splitter or a straight change up he would be very tuff.

    • die hard

      agree….hes potentially the next Greg Maddux in attitude and smarts…wish Maddux would have stuck to further tutor him

  • Dante Hicks

    I agree with BD. Casey Coleman is about effective as my recently passed grandmother would be. He might be counted among Theo/Jed’s vaunted 8-9 deep rotation, but Lopez has a far better chance to start at some point.

    A couple of other bullets. There are many who don’t like Jeff Samardzija and generally I am one of them. Many reasons for the fans: He is an ND man and that splits people down the middle into love ‘em or hate ‘em. His contract, at the time, was enormous for little return. Many Bears fans wished he had been one of theirs. He had only 2 pitches. His hair. These are not my ideas, but just passing along what people have said. Also, the fact that the Cubs were selling jersey shirts with his name on them before he was called up. I know a kid with a Campana shirt and I think it is priceless. Seriously, a young fan of a guy with a great story. There also has been that sense of entitlement from Jeff Samardzija.

    On the other hand, the Cubs, aside from the money, treated him the baseball version of Daniel Manning. I really thought Lovie was pulling the strings. They bounced him around between the pen and the rotation and the minors that he never got traction. Some of that is manager fault others on Jim Hendry. Perhaps Al Yellon too.

    I want him to succeed for sure, but I will never feel any real connection to guy. But, I wish him health and success while here.

  • Spoda17

    No way Coleman starts for the Cubs this year unless we have a ton of injuries, and I don’t pick up the call from Theo…

  • Deer

    Smart strategy to stretch him out as a starter and increase his trade value. If he pitches well, we rid some salary and could get a nice prospect. If he struggles, back to the pen, no harm done. I like it.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

    eh, he walks too many guys.
    Hope he gets a hot start and trade him. He’s approaching the time in the contract cycle where he’s going to get expensive for what he produces.

  • DCF

    Thinking of Shark as a future full time starter seems like a very long shot.
    1. He was pretty good from the pen last year and the Cubs can need some help there. If he improves, he could become a closer or setup guy or something like this. Given that neither Wood nor Marmol are a bank to be around for years, I always thought he might be agood backup there.

    2. He hasn’t pitched a starter worthy amount of innings for years, so it will take more than a boot camp to stretch him out to 150+ innings. Given that he’s 27, I think it might take too long.

    Maybe Theo/Jed think about him as a potential swing man, as the Cubs 57th emergency starter or they’re trying to build trade value (look, with some polish he could even be a starter!). Either way I kinda feel they are giving him higher hopes than neccessary.

    • CubFan Paul

      think CJ Wilson and Ryan Dempster. its not a long shot

      • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

        hes throwing well… and wants to work towards being a starter. this FO is gonna best use all the players on the roster, they have to. but the field is wide open for guys that want to step up and contribute in a bigger way. shark will have abunch of competition at ST if he wants to start he’ll have to have a good showing amongst all that the club has in that area, and its quite a bit. any way you look at it, it simply comes back to the guy is throwing well and training hard, what more could you ask for from a guy on a rebuilding team? in my opinion hes a potential bright spot.

  • ferrets_bueller

    I hope this works out for Shark.  Really, at this point, with this Cubs team, there’s nothing to lose.  I still have questions about his potential effectiveness, but it can’t hurt to see- he can always move back and be dominant again.

    • http://bleachernation.com loyal100more

      my point exactly… you said it with half the words.

  • clark addison

    The much maligned Mark Riggins may have something to do with the improvement shown by Garza and Samardzjia. Garza actually credited him.

    Of course, the rest of the staff sucked. After a visit to the mound, pitchers usually got rocked. He was helpless trying to correct Marmol’s problems.

    I’m glad he’s gone, but just saying…

  • http://bleachernation ferris

    i think Samardzija would be a great closer,and we should be looking at him in that role,marmol is the new dotel a very good setup guy but lacks the it factor to be a closer,wood will pitch anywhere you need him so were pretty solid at the back end i feel,now our starters arent to shabby but if we were to trade soriano for burnett(wich id do in a heartbeat)we’d have to much pitching…horrible problem(not) i am a big dempster fan he should bounce back with personal issues much better for his family this yr. he only has one yr left at 14m personally i think he’d take 2 yrs 20-22 m and rip that old contract up as he enjoys bein a cub wich is important(more than some ppl realize) anyway that would free up more money this yr as would trading sori so we could be real players with all the young cuban prospects comming soon maybe we add two or three more to our farm system,my point is veteran presents is important and if we are to trade garza having burnett replace him this yr while we add to the system id be happy with…a high era in the al east isnt as bad as ppl think dont forget a cpl starts being left in there to take one for the team killed his numbers..173k an almost 200 innings would be a nice replacement for garza…………….dempster,burnett,maholm,volstad,wood………and a top 5-10 farm system….from where it was just last season would be awesome……….tm2c

  • http://bleachernation ferris

    as i (many of us)suggested before garza will net three decent prospects and i would request gary sanchez along with burnett for sori,and after this season if we dont resign or extend dempster we’d still have burnett moving forward or my opinion extend dempster and look at the market for burnett the following season 2013….our farm could be stocked just that quick and like theo an jed are trying to do keep us perenial contenders not jus a shot here an there.

  • Big Joe

    The best improvement for Jeff has been attitude, hands down. Also worth noting, a cutter is thrown with less velocity than a two, or four seam fastball. More movement than a normal fastball, with just enough velocity drop off to alter a hitter’s timing. I agree that a solid changeup is the better pitch, but a good cutter will suffice in its place. Look for Jeff to pitch well. Trade him? No thanks. I believe he is finally finding his stride, both physically, and mentally. I expect him to do quite well.

  • http://bleachernation.com Butch Cub

    Hopefully, Dempster will be wearing another uniform by the end of the year. And I think it’s safe to say we are going another direction when it comes to Burnett… Smardjza, Wood, Garza, Wells, Malholm…

  • MichCubFan

    somebody above mentioned having Kerry Wood to help coach the youngsters. I agree, but don’t forget about Ryan Dempster. He seems to be a good veteran to have around young pitchers.

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