Theres so much to like about Jeff Samardzijas potential, from his power arm to his NFL body to the guts and swagger it took to play big-time football at Notre Dame.
Theo Epsteins front office gave Samardzija another chance and believes he has the tools to become a frontline starter. But its becoming harder and harder to ignore the trend line.
Samardzija stood there alone on the mound on Wednesday at Wrigley Field, watching the 91 mph cutter he threw Daniel Murphy disappear into the right-field bleachers. The ball was thrown right back, and Samardzija swatted it toward the Cubs dugout in frustration.
You could feel the heat as the New York Mets exploded for four homers in a 17-1 victory that avoided the sweep in front of 35,837 fans. The Cubs (26-49) havent won a game Samardzija started in almost a month.
Yeah, Id be lying if I (said) I wasnt concerned a little bit, manager Dale Sveum said afterward. It could be (hitting a wall). It could just be confidence. It could be mechanical. It could be all of the above.
Samardzija gave up nine runs on six hits and four walks and couldnt finish the fifth inning. Whether or not fatigue is a factor, hes now thrown 87 13 innings this year. He accounted for 88 innings out of the bullpen during his breakthrough 2011 season.
Its more mental right now than physical, Samardzija said. My body feels great. Thats not the issue.
Samardzija has allowed 25 runs in his last four starts, a span of 18 13 innings, which translates to a 12.27 ERA. This followed the month of May, when he posted a 2.48 ERA in six starts and notched 40 strikeouts against only 11 walks.
Its definitely a learning process for me right now, Samardzija said. I came (into) the season feeling great and had a great first quarter there and these things happen throughout the season where you hit these speed bumps.
The great guys make those adjustments quickly. They have one bad outing and they come back the next day and they bounce back. Ive had a few here that havent been up to par for me and I need to make those adjustments on (and) off the field, in between starts, to get me ready to go for the next (one).
No doubt about it, all this stuff is being logged away and remembered for the future. Well look back on this and understand what happened now and make those adjustments in the future. It just needs to happen quicker. Thats all.
Everyone knew there would be a learning curve for Samardzija, whos only 27 years old but seems even younger than that in baseball development time.
Samardzija felt like his sinker wasnt really sinking, running off the plate when he wanted a strike and hanging over the plate when he needed it to drop. Sveum saw someone who was leaving the ball up and having trouble putting guys away with two strikes. At the moment, the Cubs arent inclined to skip Samardzijas next start or give him extra time to work on the side.
You could do a lot of things, Sveum said. But we have a plan and when things go awry for a few starts, you just dont jump the gun.
Whatever adjustments Samardzija makes and there are reasons to believe that he will figure it out the Cubs will have to make some hard decisions with their rotation.
Ryan Dempster should get healthy sometime around the All-Star break and Matt Garza will try to block out the rumors around the July 31 trade deadline.
The New York Yankees were suddenly looking at huge holes in their rotation after Wednesdays news that CC Sabathia (groin strain) and Andy Pettitte (ankle fracture) are heading to the disabled list. Think Epsteins cell phone will be ringing?
Samardzija is now 5-7 with a with a 5.05 ERA through 15 starts. The second half of this experiment will be telling in terms of how exactly he fits into those plans.
Im really concerned about it I want to win, Samardzija said. (But) Im not concerned as a whole. Im just upset as a competitor and as a teammate for my guys who have been playing their butts off these last few days.
Coming in and letting them down isnt what Im about. It doesnt sit well with me at all. (But) you got to look at the big picture. Theres things you need to learn, and theres only one way to learn sometimes: Its to get kicked in the rear a little bit.