Cubs

Samardzija, Russell closing out solid seasons

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Samardzija, Russell closing out solid seasons

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011
Posted: 12:54 p.m.

By Tony Andracki
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs didnt know what they were going to get from Jeff Samardzija. At 26, he was out of minor-league options and pitching for his future.

With little more than a week left in the season, Samardzija leads all major-league relievers with 86.2 innings, a sign hes earned the trust of the men at the top step of the Cubs dugout.

The best part about relieving is you get to pitch a lot, Samardzija said. I know the more I work, the better I am. Under Lou (Piniella), if you werent pitching that great, you could be sitting around for a week, eight days. And I know for me, thats not the best situation.

Samardzija owns a 7-4 record and a 3.01 ERA this year while averaging a strikeout an inning and holding opponents to a .194 average, the best mark on the team. In a disappointing season, the emergence of the bullpen has been a bright spot.

Hes a big, strong guy, and hes come on like gangbusters, Cubs manager Mike Quade said.

James Russell also began the season as question mark, and it took awhile before his role was defined. Once Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner went down with arm injuries during the first week of the season, Russell was thrust into the starting rotation.

There he posted a 9.33 ERA and took the loss in all five starts as opponents hit .381 against him. But as a reliever, the 25-year-old southpaw has seen much more success, compiling a 2.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 46.1 innings, limiting opposing hitters to a .243 batting average.

Ive just been more consistent with my pitches, Russell said. If I make a mistake, I make sure its not over the middle of the plate and it doesnt get crushed.

Russell laughed because hes established himself in a bullpen that should again feature Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol in 2012. Entering play Tuesday, the Cubs rank 11th in the MLB with a 3.59 bullpen ERA, a real asset considering the relievers have pitched the sixth most innings in the league. (Theyre also tied for fifth in the majors with 23 blown saves.)

Samardzija and Russell have picked up good habits from the veterans, observing how they go about their business. Russell also consults his dad, Jeff, a former major-league reliever who saved 186 games across 14 seasons.

The two have banded together, playing long toss and keeping an eye out for each other. When one starts slacking off, the other picks him up and gets him back on track.

Since were going into the game around the same time, we can kind of keep our schedules the same, Samardzija said. Its a day-to-day understanding of where you need to be. When you get out of that comfort zone, thats when things start going awry. Weve been able to stick together and have each others backs.

The work has paid off. As the summer wore on, the two earned Quades trust and found themselves in big-game situations more and more.

Jeff and I have been throwing pretty good out of the bullpen, Russell said. I love it. I like that theyre putting us in tighter situations and relying on us a lot more.

Samardzija boasts a 1.83 ERA in his last 40 outings. Russell carries a 2.38 ERA over his last 34 innings.

We had some new guys step up and really show what theyre capable of doing, Wood said. It was fun watching them get better and have success and go out and dominate at times.

Russell and Samardzija are both under team control for the 2012 season. What their roles become depends on the next regime, though Samardzija clearly has his sights set on a rotation spot. Either way, both young guns figure to be a prominent part of next years Cubs.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”