The Chicago Cubs suggested that Jeff Samardzija, who was coming off a successful season in the bullpen, would prepare for 2012 as a starter as far back as November. So, preparing to be a starter is just what Samardzija did. All Winter.
But by the time February rolled around, he was facing a rotation competition that featured no fewer than six competitors probably ahead of him in the pecking order. Given that the Cubs are still full-up with starters, is it really the best plan to let Samardzija start this Spring? Or should he be refining his work out of the pen?
“That’s going to be the million-dollar question in Spring Training,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said on Thursday. “Against live hitters [on Thursday], he threw the heck out of the ball and had great command, which he has every time. It’s going to be an interesting decision later this month.” …
“I wanted to carry that momentum I had at the end of the year last year into this year,” [Samardzija] said. “I think I’ve done that. I’m very happy with how I threw today. I’m really champing at the bit to get these games going.”
The difference is that Samardzija’s command is better, and he’s more aggressive with his command.
“I started bringing my cutter back in that I had two years ago when I was starting [at Triple-A] Iowa,” Samardzija said. “It’s understanding that, as a starter, I want these guys to put my ball in play early and I want to pitch deep in games. An emphasis on command. As a reliever, you come in and you can throw as hard as you want and get away with that. But as a starter, I want low effort and get a lot of action early in the count.”
There’s no questioning that a successful Samardzija starting is more valuable than a successful Samardzija relieving. The question, instead, is whether he can become a successful starter. Command, as he notes, is going to be one of the biggest issues for him. It’s not just a matter of cutting down on the walks, it’s a matter of controlling at bats, and putting himself in a position to pitch deep into the game.
Also, here’s a funny picture of Jeff Samardzija with a funny caption (let’s be honest, it’s the real reason this post exists – thanks to BN’er Josh for coming up with the caption first on the BN Facebook page):
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