Jeff Samardzija’s offseason prospects aren’t very good right now.
A free agent at the conclusion of this season, Samardzija was rocked in a third straight start on Friday afternoon.
Samardzija allowed six earned runs, including three home runs in six innings as the White Sox lost to the Cubs, 6-5, in front of 36,386 at U.S. Cellular Field. Chris Coghlan homered twice and Anthony Rizzo hit another for the Cubs, who loudly celebrated both on and off the field as they won their eighth straight. Adam Eaton homered for the White Sox, who saw their three-game losing streak snapped.
“It hurts, man,” said Samardzija, who has a 12.91 ERA over his last three starts. “I take things personally. I enjoy having success. I enjoy doing well. But you have to understand that the work you’re doing is always good work. You keep working hard and keep trying to fix what you feel like you’re doing wrong. We got another one in four days, we’ll be out in Anaheim, and we’ll go out and attack them, another great team, and do our job.”
Friday’s work was rarely easy if ever for Samardzija as he pitched for the first time against the team that selected him with the 149th overall pick of the 2006 draft.
The first inning started poorly as Avisail Garcia botched Dexter Fowler’s leadoff single into a triple. Kyle Schwarber’s sac fly made it 1-0 but Samardzija put two more men on base before he escaped the jam with a strikeout.
Samardzija pitched a perfect second inning after the White Sox took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first on Garcia's two-run double. But he found trouble again in the third as Fowler doubled, Schwarber walked and Coghlan hammered a 2-1 slider out to right to put the Cubs back in the lead, 4-2.
The White Sox regained the lead 5-4 in the bottom of the fourth on Eaton’s two-run homer but Samardzija gave it right back. Coghlan tied the game with a solo homer with two outs in the fifth inning and Rizzo crushed another 413 feet to right to put the Cubs ahead 6-5.
Samardzija has allowed 20 home runs this season.
“It's just getting too much in the middle of the plate,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “There are some good swings there late, especially with the lefties. Getting too much of the plate and I think that's something you can clean up. Work the corners. I know he loves throwing off-speed stuff and changing speeds and things like that, but you get that much of the plate and it can cost you, especially on warm days like this.”
Until they caught fire in the week before the trade deadline, it was all but expected the White Sox would offer a change of scenery and deal Samardzija to the highest bidder.
As he auditioned for contenders ahead of the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, Samardzija was fantastic, going 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in five July starts. But a seven-game winning streak wiped out those plans as it put Rick Hahn in a spot where it would have been difficult to trade Samardzija, whose camp has been adamant all along he’s headed for free agency.
As of now, Samardzija’s free-agent appeal has taken a hit on two fronts.
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Not only has he struggled recently — his ERA has risen from 3.94 to 4.78 the past three starts — but the White Sox can make him a qualifying offer if he elects not to sign a long-term deal with them, which means all but 10 teams with protected picks would have to surrender a first-rounder in order to sign Samardzija. Having the loss of a draft pick attached won’t eliminate all interested parties, but it could limit Samardzija’s market and ultimately his payday.
Samardzija can of course change his fortunes with a strong finish to the season. Even though he has allowed 22 runs — all earned — 23 hits and five home runs in his last 15 1/3 innings, Samardzija expects he’ll turn things around.
“It hasn’t been too kind to me, that’s for sure,” Samardzija said. “Like I said, the last few times; I went back and watched KC game, and then tonight. I feel great, I feel like my pitches are there. It’s just a couple swings of the bat here and there that are getting me, and in big situations. We need to keep doing what we’re doing, keep improving, and we’ll be fine. It’s just one of those little stretch runs in the season that you have to fight through and then before you know it, you’ll be on the other side of the coin.”