Cubs

Up in the air: Coleman, Samardzija make a pitch

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Up in the air: Coleman, Samardzija make a pitch

Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010
6:52 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MILWAUKEE When the Cubs selected Casey Coleman in the 15th round of the 2008 draft, it was difficult for him to picture where he would be in two years, but he certainly didnt see this.

That June Carlos Zambrano was in the first season of a five-year deal. Ryan Dempster was coming off a season in which he saved 28 games. Both would be named All-Stars, as would Ted Lilly the following year. The next month the Cubs traded for Rich Harden, hoping that would be the move to put them over the top in October.

It hasnt worked out the way anyone envisioned, but it has cleared a path for Coleman to become the games first third-generation major-league pitcher. But the 23-year-old doesnt want to become just an answer to a trivia question.

Colemans father Joe is an instructor in the Detroit Tigers system, so he understands that young pitchers typically get a chance out of the bullpen to showcase their arms, maybe one start to make an impression.

Coleman added to his body of work during Sundays 2-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers in front of 37,317 fans at Miller Park. Hes pitched at least six innings in each of his last four starts. Hes developing a routine and competing for a job. The nerves are gone.

Im looking at it as a great opportunity, said Coleman, who allowed one run Sunday across six innings. Hopefully whoever is here next year as manager will get to see how Ive done.

The 62-81 Cubs have shifted to player-development mode, and next they will evaluate Jeff Samardzija, to see how far hes come since April 24.

During his last trip to Miller Park, Samardzija learned that he was being sent down to Triple-A Iowa, a stay that lasted almost five months. On Sunday he was told that hell be starting the next night against a St. Louis Cardinals team fading from the National League Central race.

Sometimes you get pulled into the office for bad things, Samardzija said, and sometimes for good things. (Im) ready to go.

The Cubs expected to take a look at their 10 million investment later this week, but those plans changed on Sunday when Carlos Silva reported discomfort with whats being described as a right elbow strain.

Silva isnt traveling with the team to St. Louis and will visit Dr. Stephen Gryzlo on Monday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Presumably the staff will decide whether or not it makes sense to shut down Silva for the final three weeks of the season.

That creates an opportunity for Samardzija, who went 11-3 with a 4.37 ERA at Iowa, but was repeatedly bypassed as the Cubs held auditions throughout the summer.

(Well) get out there and just really attack, Samardzija said. I dont think theres really anything else to change or anything else to look at just go out and pitch. (Its) definitely something thats been on my mind for a long time.

The television sets in the Cubs clubhouse and the Miller Park press box have been tuned into college football and NFL games all weekend. Samardzija, once a star wide receiver at the University of Notre Dame, dismissed a reporter wondering if he still thinks about his career choice.

Coleman never had those conflicts of interest. He was seemingly born to pitch, and though he doesnt have blow-away stuff, the staffs streak of 25 consecutive scoreless innings was snapped only after Ryan Braun muscled a broken-bat double that landed near the line in shallow right field.

The Brewers (66-76) lit up Coleman for six runs in 2 13 innings during his big-league debut on Aug. 2. Hes been living out of a hotel ever since, because he didnt know how long hed remain in Chicago. He went back and studied the film from that game, hoping to find any edge that will help him stick at this level.

This is a game of adjustments, he said. It gives you a lot of confidence as a pitcher knowing that these guys dont own you and you can get them out and compete. That will be something I build on for the future, because I hope to face them again.

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

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.