Cubs

Start it up: Samardzija could get his wish in 2012

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Start it up: Samardzija could get his wish in 2012

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 5:00 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
Box Score
WATCH: Lopez glad to get his team the win
READ: Starlin Castro feels right at home in Chicago

Once Jeff Samardzija committed to baseball, he had a clear idea of who he should be. Even as he struggled to establish himself in the big leagues, he wasnt shy about expressing his desire to be a starter.

Whatever the reasons a glaring need for rotation help, a weak free-agent class, Samardzijas growth as a pitcher the Cubs are gradually coming around to his way of thinking.

Even manager Mike Quade whos consistently said that Samardzijas more suited to being a reliever seems to have softened that stance.

There are plenty of reasons for people to mull over that and think about that possibility, Quade said Saturday. It looks like we need some starting pitching (and) its not rocket science (to) think about guys that have done it before.

Its like anything else around here just stay focused on finishing what youre doing now. (Hes) a big, strong guy. Could that be a possibility? Absolutely.

There are way too many variables to make a definitive statement, because there will be a new general manager with his own viewpoint. That executive will also decide the fates of the manager and his coaching staff.

Next year is the only prism through which you can view these games.

Rodrigo Lopez a 35-year-old who began the season pitching for Atlantas Triple-A affiliate gave up one run across six innings. Bryan LaHair a Pacific Coast League MVP at the age of 28 smashed the go-ahead homer. The Cubs hung on to beat the last-place Houston Astros 2-1 on Saturday at Wrigley Field.

Everybody knows Im fighting for a job next year, trying to find a spot somewhere, Lopez said afterward. Its very to important to finish strong and go home with a good feeling and make a case to get a job.

LaHair has forced the issue by hitting .433 (13-for-30) with seven walks in 11 games since his September call-up. He made an error in right field on Saturday as well as a nice running catch at the warning track. The Cubs (67-85) have a surplus of outfielders, but could need a first baseman if they dont re-sign Carlos Pena.

Lopez is now 6-6 with a 4.71 ERA and hit six innings for the second time in almost two months. The Cubs will have to at least explore some in-house options for the 2012 rotation, and much will depend on Andrew Cashners health.

Lets make sure we dont let a potential high-end starter just wind up in the bullpen without taking a shot, Quade said. It made perfect sense (this year). Its a damn shame he got hurt because we all wanted to see that experiment. Maybe it starts up again this winter.

Samardzija has pitched so well out of the bullpen 7-4 with a 3.06 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 85.1 innings that the Cubs have started to think there could be more there.

Samardzija will be 27 next season and has already made the club options for 2012 and 2013 believed to be worth 6.5 million total seem like almost automatic pick-ups.

At this time last year, reporters were asking the former Notre Dame All-American if the start of football season made him re-think his decision. Now the sense is that Samardzija will be a big part of the 2012 Cubs.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.