White Sox

Cubs will put Samardzija front and center

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Cubs will put Samardzija front and center

Theo Epsteins first impression of Jeff Samardzija: Man on a mission.

The Cubs will be putting Samardzija front and center as they contemplate life after Ryan Dempster, figure out what to do with Matt Garza and go to the next phase of their rebuilding project at Clark and Addison.

The Cubs are back in Arizona, which Samardzija found to be the perfect distraction-free zone last offseason. He moved back into his place near the teams complex in Mesa, to do all the things he outlined for Epstein when he made his pitch to be in the rotation.

When Samardzija takes the ball Friday night against the Diamondbacks, he will have accounted for 78 innings, or 10 less than he threw last season out of the bullpen. This is what he wanted all along, why he went out to the desert.

I actually kind of feel stronger than I did in the beginning, to tell you the truth, Samardzija said. I really feel like Im hitting that midseason point where the arm really starts coming along, and all that work youve done in the offseason starts really kicking in right about now.

Samardzija is 5-5 with a 4.04 ERA and 78 strikeouts against 28 walks. Epstein believes the art will be in finding the consistency, because Samardzija is so athletically gifted.

As advertised, Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. Great arm.

Samardzija is 27, while Garza is 28, and together they are two big personalities who could front a rotation with ideas about October.

Garza says hed only be worried if his name wasnt in trade rumors, that Chicago would be a great place for his kids to grow up, but ultimately Ill pitch on the freaking moon.

Garza wont be a free agent until after the 2013 season. His main point is that its out of his control. But couldnt he go to the Cubs and try to make a commitment?

The conversations of that nature between the player and the club are always best kept confidential, Epstein said. Weve had an ongoing dialogue about a number of things. We have an open-door policy with any of our players about anything, on the field or off the field, business or personal.

Last offseason, Samardzija got an audience with the front office at a time when several other now ex-Cubs say they got nothing but silence.

The new regime change meant a lot to Samardzija, which is ironic, because the University of Notre Dame football star had become a signature signinglightning rod for the Jim Hendry administration.

It wasnt hard to interpret Samardzijas state of mind in spring training, when he cut off a reporter wondering what if the rotation thing doesnt work out: The worst question Ive ever heard.

And Samardzija turned around another question from a Boston writer who had traveled to Arizona to work on an Epstein profile, saying he wasnt a big East Coast fan, that he was a big Hendry guy and the new bosses would have big shoes to fill.

The biggest thing that helped us was the makeup, said assistant general manager Randy Bush. As he struggled to figure it out at the major-league level, the one thing that we knew was how tough he is, and how competitive he is, and I think that has helped him transition into what hes becoming.

Bush has watched Samardzija since Notre Dame, where his former University of New Orleans teammate, Paul Mainieri, used to be the baseball coach before moving on to Louisiana State University.

Bush, who was hired by Hendry, speaks with authority, because he has institutional memory and played on two World Series winners with the Minnesota Twins, an organization known for player development.

(Samardzijas) not going to make the same mistakes over and over again, Bush said. Hes just going to learn. Physically, hes got everything you look for to be that kind of guy you can hopefully tee up there for 200 innings a year.

Everyone talked about the 85 mph splitter that got away from Samardzija and smashed into Paul Konerkos face last month at Wrigley Field. But the day after, Bush spoke with Samardzija about the previous at-bat, the 95 mph, 1-0 fastball he left middle in for Konerko, which was crushed for a two-run homer that helped lift the White Sox.

I think a lot of the struggles (Jeff) went through the last few years was (just because) hes still young as a pitcher, Bush said. I remember shaking my head thinking: Why would you try to beat Konerko in there? The risk-reward just isnt there. And I (told him) those kind of things, youre just going to learn.

Samardzija was strong enough to play Sundays in the NFL, and the thought is that he will pitch somewhere around 180 innings this season, though theres not a hard limit.

Or, as manager Dale Sveum said: Were not going to kill him, put it that way. So theres going to be another interesting conversation.

I understand that they have a plan with me, (which) is fine, Samardzija said. I would like to pitch every fifth day, no matter what. I think I can physically do it and I handle it, but its not my call. So Im going to pitch when they tell me to pitch, and when I go out there, Im going to give it everything I have and lay it all out there.

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

Public League champion Simeon remains clear No. 1 in latest Preps Power Rankings

Public League champion Simeon remains clear No. 1 in latest Preps Power Rankings

The Class 1A and 2A regionals begin this week and the regular season is finishing up for every other team in the state. We're getting that much closer to state titles being decided in Peoria. Simeon remains the clear No. 1 in the latest Power Rankings after beating No. 4 Whitney Young and No. 2 Orr by double digits on the way to earning a third straight Public League Playoff title, while a couple of familiar faces are back in the tail end of the rankings.

1. Simeon (25-3, 9-0) (1) -- Simeon stays at No. 1 after winning the Public League Playoffs for the third consecutive year. The Wolverines have now defeated teams No. 2 through No. 6 in the Preps Power Rankings for a 6-0 record on the season in which the average margin of victory has been 14.5 points per game. The clear No. 1 in the state of Illinois, Simeon has the week off before the Class 4A playoffs.

2. Orr (22-4, 9-0) (2) -- Orr put up a good fight but they ultimately fell short to No. 1 Simeon in the Public League Playoff title game. The Spartans did gain revenge on No. 3 Curie, however, with a big semifinal win on Friday. Orr has to forget the title loss ahead of the Class 2A Playoffs that begin this week as the Spartans try to repeat as champions.

3. Curie (23-4, 8-1) (3) -- The Condors have only lost to No. 1 and No. 2 when it comes to in-state losses as they remain one of the most complete and balanced teams in the state. Curie has the week off before the IHSA Playoffs.

4. Whitney Young (22-7, 7-2) (4) -- Whitney Young earned a huge quarterfinal win over Morgan Park before falling to Simeon in the Public League Playoff semifinals. The Dolphins also have the week off before they attempt to repeat as Class 4A champions. 

5. Morgan Park (18-9, 7-2) (5) Disappointing result for the Mustangs as they lost on a buzzer-beater in the Public League Playoffs to Whitney Young. Defending champions in Class 3A, the Mustangs will rest this week before the playoffs begin.

6. Fenwick (18-7, 8-0) (8) -- The Friars earned two wins during the week as they beat Marmion while also getting a huge conference road win at Loyola. Fenwick will battle Taft during the week.

7. New Trier (22-3, 8-1) (9) -- New Trier had one of the best weeks of any team in the area as they picked up wins over Maine South and Evanston. Now the leaders in the rugged CSL South, the Trevians have some more tough games against Niles North and Glenbrook North this week. 

8. Evanston (20-5, 8-2) (6) -- Evanston's red-hot recent play was finally slowed down as they fell to rival New Trier. The Wildkits will try to bounce back when they play Vernon Hills in a Central Suburban crossover this week.

9. Oak Park-River Forest (21-5, 12-0) (11) -- The Huskies finished the West Suburban Silver season unbeaten following wins over York and Proviso West. OPRF gets a great test right before the playoffs when they face Hinsdale South in the West Suburban championship game.

10. Benet (21-4) (6-1) (12) -- Two wins for the Redwings this week when they beat Joliet Catholic and Stevenson. Things aren't easy for Benet this week as they head to Marian Catholic before hosting Carmel in two tough ESCC games. 

11. West Aurora (19-4, 8-0) (13) -- The winning streak is now 11 for the Blackhawks after beating South Elgin. West Aurora will play Bartlett and crosstown rival East Aurora this week as they try to keep the momentum going into the playoffs. 

12. Marist (23-4, 6-2) (15) -- Marist picked up a double-digit win over St. Patrick during the week as they prepare for the Class 4A draw. The RedHawks will have an ESCC game against Marian Central this week. 

13. Niles North (22-4, 5-4) (8) -- The Vikings fell to CSL South rival Maine South and followed that up with an overtime win over a tough Wisconsin team in St. Catherine's. The Vikings get a crack at conference leader New Trier this week before playing Maine West in a tough Central Suburban crossover. 

14. Marian Catholic (20-4, 5-3) (16) -- Three wins for the Spartans during the week as they knocked off Nazareth, Rich Central and Marian Central. Marian Catholic gets a tough test this week when they host Benet in its final ESCC game.

15. Naperville North (23-2, 14-1) (17) -- The Huskies have won eight straight games as they clinched at least a share of the DuPage Valley Conference with a win over Waubonsie Valley this week. Naperville North hosts Wheaton-Warrenville South this week to decide the DVC title.

16. DePaul Prep (20-6, 5-3) (19) -- Picking up a convincing double-digit win over Mount Carmel, the Rams got back on track after the loss to Brother Rice. DePaul Prep will host Montini during the week as they prepare for Class 3A. 

17. Loyola (21-6, 5-3) (10) -- Tough recent stretch for the Ramblers as they fell to St. Joseph and Fenwick to fall out of the Catholic League Blue race. Loyola hosts Steinmetz for a tune-up this week. 

18. Hillcrest (21-5, 13-0) (21) -- Hillcrest survived a tight win over T.F. North before winning convincingly against Oak Forest. The Hawks have the week off as they prep for Class 3A. 

19. Leo (19-5, 8-0) (22) -- Finishing the regular season with a big win over Marmion, the Lions will be one of the area teams to watch in the Class 2A playoffs as they are in the Marshall Regional. 

20. Homewood-Flossmoor (16-6, 7-1) (23) -- Another huge win for Homewood-Flossmoor as the Vikings took down Bolingbrook to keep a lead in the SouthWest Suburban Blue. Homewood-Flossmoor goes on the road this week to battle Sandburg and Lockport. 

21. Hinsdale South (20-5, 10-2) (24) -- The Hornets stayed hot with wins over Addison Trail and Proviso East as they clinched the West Suburban Gold. Hinsdale South has a tough battle against Oak Park-River Forest in the West Suburban championship game this week. 

22. St. Viator (22-5, 8-0) (25) -- The Lions picked up some wins against Carmel and Bartlett. St. Viator will try to close out the ESCC with an undefeated record when they play Nazareth this week. 

23. Bolingbrook (17-6, 5-3) (18) -- Bolingbrook fell out of the SouthWest Suburban Blue conference race when they lost to Homewood-Flossmoor. The Raiders still have some tough games to close out the regular season when they play Lincoln-Way East and Stagg.

24. Maine South (20-7, 6-4) (NR) -- Huge win for Maine South as they knocked off Niles North after losing to New Trier in overtime earlier in the week. The Hawks close out the regular season with a Central Suburban Crossover against Highland Park.

25. Willowbrook (22-5, 9-3) (NR) -- Willowbrook is back in the rankings by earning three double-digit wins over Morton, Leyden and Downers South. The Warriors have only lost to ranked teams like West Aurora and Hinsdale South lately as they've been playing well.