A couple years ago, a number of pitchers were in Chicago Cubs’ camp with the express purpose of battling for a spot at the back end of the Cubs’ rotation. One of those pitchers was Jeff Samardzija, then a rising star in the Cubs’ organization.
He pitched poorly, and didn’t land a spot in the rotation. From there, Samardzija bounced back and forth between the bigs and the minors, between starting and relieving, and didn’t really come into his own until the second half of last season. He pitched well enough in the first half, mind you, but in the second half – out of the pen – Samardzija was excellent.
Now he wants another chance to make the rotation, and the Cubs are going to give it to him. Together with Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Andy Sonnanstine, and Casey Coleman, Samardzija will be trying to grab one of just two open spots in the Cubs’ rotation. It will be a tough fight, but Samardzija isn’t thinking about heading back to the bullpen.
When it was noted that if the rotation doesn’t pan out there is always a relief role available, Samardzija stopped the comment in its tracks.
“The worst question I’ve ever heard,” Samardzija said.
Never mind that a question had yet to be asked. What didn’t have to be asked was how seriously the right-hander is taking his latest opportunity at becoming a starter in the Cubs rotation as he heads into his sixth spring training with the club.
He’s been so serious about it that he has essentially been in his own version of spring training since November.
“I’ve been here for about four months now working out for just that with the understanding from last year that that’s where I want to be and that’s what I want to do,” he said. “It’s all that has been on my mind since the end of the season last year and I haven’t worked for anything but that.
“I don’t have too many hobbies right now, I don’t have too many things on the side, it’s mostly just baseball and that’s all I’m worried about.”
Samardzija says he now has a better appreciation for just how important Spring Training is for a guy who’s trying to win a rotation spot, so he wanted to make sure he was in mid-season form.
At the same time, and despite his “worst question ever” comment, it’s not as though Samardzija doesn’t recognize the bullpen is a possibility. When it comes down to it, Samardzija wants to do what’s best for the team.
“It’s about the team first,” Samardzija said. “When it comes down to breaking for the season, you’re going to do what’s best for the team. Personally, I have my own goals and where I feel like I want to be but as a team, when it comes down to Game 1, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is what your role is that they gave you that day and you go from there.”
As I mentioned in the Bullets yesterday, Samardzija cannot be an effective starter in the big leagues unless his command improves (as it did in the second half last year), and he is able to throw three pitches that can get big league hitters out. Coming out of the pen, you can succeed – even thrive – on two pitches. But when you have to face guys three or four times in a game, you need something more.
But letting Samardzija have another go at the rotation is probably the right move. His upside as a starter is quite high, even if the probability he reaches it is low.