Cubs

Samardzija believes hes in right place at right time

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Samardzija believes hes in right place at right time

Wednesday, April 27, 2011Posted: 5:05 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs understandably want to promote their homegrown players with billboards and bobblehead dolls.

Jeff Samardzija is no longer viewed through that lens, but he never really got caught up in all the hype anyway. Hes a dude who likes listening to Pink Floyd. He just happens to be freakishly athletic.

Samardzija is still only 26 years old, but everyone forgets that because hes been a name for so long, the built-in celebrity from being an All-American at Notre Dame.

He is only 10 months older than Darwin Barney, and just eight months older than Tyler Colvin. They were all born in 1985, but only one is perceived as being in a make-or-break year, the final guaranteed season of a 10 million contract.

Samardzija gets tired of football questions that undercut his commitment to the Cubs, but recognizes that its taken time to find his identity as a pitcher.

If you look at it, Im almost kind of younger than they are, Samardzija said. Baseball (had) always just kind of been what I did with my extra time. So to be here for the past four years going on my fifth year of only baseball Im really starting to see all that work Ive been doing paying off.

All these adjustments we made in my mechanics and all the pitches weve changedI feel like Ive tried everything and now Ive kind of came out the (other) side with what I know works for me. I just feel real good right now.

Samardzijas out of minor-league options, and that was mentioned every time someone wrote a story about how the Cubs would construct their Opening Day roster.

But the Cubs arent just carrying Samardzija, whos thrown nine consecutive scoreless innings to slice his ERA from 7.50 to 3.14. Hes developed a real feel for his slider and there were never any doubts about his velocity.

Hes got major-league stuff just command it, manager Mike Quade said. Hes doing that right now. Hes all over the glove on a regular basis and hes down in the zone.

Baseball America projected Samardzija as the 20th-best overall prospect in the 2006 draft, though he fell to fifth round amid concerns that he was headed to the NFL.

General manager Jim Hendry listened to his good friend Paul Mainieri then the Notre Dame baseball coach, now at Louisiana State and the Cubs made it an easy financial decision.

He played football in front of 90,000 people on national television, Mainieri recalled last year. (Nothings) going to scare (him). He has the athletic ability. Hes got the arm strength. Hes got the It Factor. Hes got the unwavering confidence. Hes got everything that you need except he just needed to develop his repertoire of pitches.

Thats been a process, but Samardzijas potential and intangibles were apparent then, and shouldnt be completely dismissed now.

You wondered how the Cubs could trust Samardzija after he walked four batters in one inning on April 9, running his total to eight through his first three appearances.

The Cubs cant run Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol out there every time they have a lead or its a close game. Samardzija responded by winning two during this just-completed homestand, and hes notched 16 strikeouts in 14.1 innings.

Ive just been trying to take a pretty consistent approach, Samardzija said. My whole career Ive kind of been battling with getting caught up with every pitch and every outcome. (But) you (have to) take the same mentality with every pitch.

Samardzija did it in the heat of the 2008 pennant race, posting a 2.28 ERA in 27.2 innings. But he says that if you compare the film from then and now, hes a totally different pitcher.

Thats just part of growing as a baseball player, Samardzija said. When I first got called up, I was just an athlete throwing what I thought I could throw. Now I really feel like Im starting to pitch and approach hitters a different way. Its just about being comfortable up there and (having) confidence.

Samardzija was just getting by on adrenaline and pure athleticism that summer and getting profiled by Sports Illustrated. But this was never a publicity stunt for him. It doesnt matter what the Cubs do with their club option for 2012. Hell keep evolving.

To have a long big-league career youve got to make adjustments, Samardzija said. You always got to stay a step ahead of the curve.

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

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday night, he will have officially pitched against all 30 major league teams. That alone is impressive; the messy results from his early seasons in Baltimore didn’t exactly scream 10-year veteran. There’s something charmingly poetic about Arrieta’s first return — and last new opponent — coming from the place that saved his career.

“He’s a different cat, and I appreciate that about him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talk — he’s a foodie, so we’ve talked a lot about restaurants. He was always making recommendations for me here in Chicago when he had more experience than I had here. Just in general, he likes to talk about things other than the game, which I always appreciated about him.”

Before coming to Chicago in a trade (that also included Pedro Strop), Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA in 358 innings pitched. After a slow beginning to his Cubs career, the righty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The latter season was especially impressive: 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA, and a career-best K/BB% (21.6) - all on the way to a Cy Young award.

Maddon referenced two games in 2015 that still comes to mind when he thinks about Arrieta: the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and a late-June (June 21) game in Minnesota. That afternoon against the Twins, Arrieta went all nine innings while striking out seven and only allowing four hits. More importantly, it started a run of 20 straight starts without ever allowing more than three runs in a game. Over that stretch, he allowed only 14 earned runs and had an ERA under 1.00.

“I remember the game in Minnesota, 8-0 I think it was,” Maddon said. “It was a complete game in Minnesota. I thought that this was like, this seminal moment for him. That complete game, I thought, meant a lot to him internally. I thought after that he really took off.”

Monday night won’t actually be the first time Arrieta’s returned to Chicago, though. He came through last season, his first as a member of the Phillies, but didn’t pitch. As far as reunions go, Monday’s at Wrigley figures to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Honestly, I think Jake deserves his due,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “His first time back here at Wrigley pitching against the Cubs. He deserves his due for everything he meant to this franchise. I don't look at it as a showdown or a referendum or anything like that. He deserves a warm embrace and a huge tip of the cap for everything that he meant for all of us.

“For me, personally, helping us all get to places we wanted to go. Doing it in such an exciting way. I'm a big Jake Arrieta fan, just not tonight."

2019 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta, who’s seen his walk-rate (9.8 percent) spike to a level not seen in over half a decade. His ERA is on the wrong side of 4 (though is there a right side of 4?) and he’s allowing some of the hardest contact of his career. The numbers say Arrieta’s not the pitcher he once was, but Maddon still sees shades of the Cy Young winner and World Series Champion.

“I would say the biggest difference is purely velocity on the fastball,” he said. “I’m watching the movement on the fastball, and I’m watching the break on the breaking ball. He’s probably more apt to throw the change up out there now than he had, but he looks he looks a lot the same.”

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Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

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USA TODAY

Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

Monday was a mixture of good news and bad news for the Cubs on the injury front.

Star shortstop Javy Baez was held out of the starting lineup Monday after suffering a heel injury in Sunday night's game, but manager Joe Maddon said he hopes Baez could be available to hit off the bench. 

Closer Brandon Morrow threw from flat ground (45 to 60 feet) Monday, his first day throwing since he suffered a setback earlier this spring in his return from offseason elbow surgery. 

That throwing session "went well," Theo Epstein said before the Cubs and Phillies faced off at Wrigley Field Monday night and Morrow will continue along a regular throwing progression from there, ramping up to throwing off a mound in the bullpen. The Cubs will evaluate along the way, exercising caution with the 34-year-old right-hander.

The Cubs also received encouraging news on Pedro Strop, who is recovering from a hamstring strain initially suffered in Arizona in late April. The veteran reliever threw a 25-pitch bullpen Monday, which went well, and is in line for another bullpen later this week. 

Then there was the bad news: Top prospect Nico Hoerner will miss at least a month with a hairline fracture in his left wrist. 

Hoerner — playing for Double-A Tennessee — was hit in the wrist with a pitch on April 23 and has been sidelined since then. 

"He went to start his hitting progression; it didn't go great," Epstein said. "After a couple days, they did a CT scan and this time they did find a hairline fracture right where his forearm meets his hand, so right at his wrist essentially. 

"So he's gonna be in a splint for three weeks and get out of it and evaluate it from there. He'll be out at least a month, obviously, with this."

That's bad news for the Cubs, given Hoerner has already missed nearly a month and looked to be on the comeback trail just a few days ago. The young infielder has done nothing but hit since the Cubs made him the 24th overall pick in the MLB Draft last June and was slashing .300/.391/.500 with nearly as many walks (7) as strikeouts (8) in 18 games this season.

Hoerner wasn't expected to impact the big-league level in 2019, but if he continued to flash the skills and production that made him the organization's top prospect all summer, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Cubs put him on the fast track to Chicago. That seems unlikely now that he'll miss at least two months of development. 

However, the Cubs will certainly take the good news on Morrow and Strop. Morrow was shut down in late April after a suffering yet another setback in his recovery and spent about a month without picking up a baseball. 

Any impact he can make on the Cubs bullpen later in the season would be a welcome addition after he saved 22 games with a 1.47 ERA in 35 apperances last year. But he didn't throw a pitch in the second half and is still a long way off from rejoining the big-league bullpen, even if he continues to show well healthwise.

Strop has been the Cubs' closer in Morrow's stead, though he's had a pair of hamstring injuries (last September and now again this spring). He last pitched on May 6 when he blew a save against the Marlins.

Even without Morrow (and now Strop, more recently), the Cubs bullpen has the best ERA in baseball (2.66) since the rough start to open the season.

"Since that first road trip, they've been — by the numbers — one of the best, if not the best in baseball," Epstein said. "So they've been doing a great job. We've had our hiccups along the way the way like every club will, but even under some difficult circumstances after some short starts, they've found a way to really put some zeros up there. 

"It's been impressive. It's been a group effort, which is nice to see. And Joe's done a great job picking the right spots for those guys, too."

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