It’s been hinted at for weeks, and, if you’ve been paying attention to Spring Training, you won’t be terribly surprised to learn that Jeff Samardzija is now a near lock to win a spot in the Chicago Cubs’ otherwise very crowded rotation.
If you hadn’t been paying attention to Spring Training, however, you probably would be shocked at hearing manager Dale Sveum say things like this:
“Obviously, that lock’s getting a little closer and closer to being finalized,” Sveum said about Samardzija making the rotation. “It’s impressive and it’s what organizations dream of – a 6-foot-6, 240-pound athlete on the mound who has four pitches with velocity. It’s impressive, there’s no doubt about it. I don’t think he’s doing anything we didn’t expect. The way he finished throwing the ball the last season, the mechanical changes he made, the confidence he gained. Now it’s just full force right now.”
As Sveum suggests, Samardzija has done nothing this Spring to disabuse folks of the notion that he could surprise and be a quality starter this year. He’s given up just three runs in 10 Spring innings, just six hits, no walks, and struck out nine. It’s been a brilliant Spring, but let’s re-emphasize a part of that line: 10 innings.
While it is accurate to say that Samardzija’s Spring has done nothing to make anyone think he can’t be a good starter, we’re talking about an exceedingly small sample size. Still, Sveum and the coaching staff have been watching Samardzija work for months, and the decision is not being made on those numbers, alone.
If Samardzija nails down that number four spot in the rotation – behind Garza, Dempster, and Maholm – the Cubs will be left choosing from Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, and Travis Wood (and, technically, Rodrigo Lopez and Casey Coleman) for the final spot. Wood has pitched poorly this Spring, and, since he’s freely optionable to AAA Iowa, he’ll probably start the year there. Volstad and Wells each have pitched superbly this Spring, and each has prior big league success. Volstad is four years younger than Wells, though both are in their first year of arbitration. I’ve got a suspicion that Volstad is the guy as of right now, with Wells headed to the pen or out the door in a trade. That could change by next week, of course.