Jeff Samardzija looks like a winner as Cubs fall 2-1 to Nationals
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com September 3, 2012 8:40PM
Updated: October 5, 2012 6:15AM
WASHINGTON — The team with the best record in baseball told its best pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, that he’s being limited to two more starts because of durability concerns and re-injury risk.
A few hours later Monday, in the same venue, the team with one of the worst records in baseball got a loud and clear message from its own best pitcher with limited-innings issues.
‘‘It’s big for me to finish strong,’’ said Jeff Samardzija, who pitched seven more impressive innings against one of the top-hitting lineups in the National League in the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals.
For all the talk about hitters such as Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and prospects Brett Jackson and Jorge Soler, nobody’s bigger in the Cubs’ rebuilding plans than Samardzija.
Look around. There’s not another front-line-caliber starting pitcher or prospect anywhere near a big-league mound in the Cubs organization. That makes Samardzija, along with — maybe — a healthy Matt Garza the only reasonable footholds for a step forward in 2013.
‘‘They’re all low [minors],’’ manager Dale Sveum said of the Cubs’ potential power starters of the future. ‘‘We’ve got some stuff coming, but it’s obviously very young still yet.’’
The significance of Samardzija, 27, seems to be growing with almost every start he’s made since a rough-and-stumble, winless June.
Despite his 8-13 record, he has a 3.91 ERA this season, and he’s 2-3 with a 2.66 ERA in six starts against teams that finished the weekend in first place or tied for first. In a no-decision and three losses, including Monday, he got two, two, two and one runs of support.
‘‘You love playing against these kind of teams,’’ Samardzija said. ‘‘We can approach these games against first-place teams like we’re right there in it, and these are big games. It’s going to show a lot with our team because we’re playing good teams. We’re going to be facing their good pitchers. We’re going to be seeing their best. We’re going to see where we’re at for sure.’’
Samardzija’s significance also is why Sveum, pitching coach Chris Bosio and the front office have kept a close watch on his fast-rising innings total. A month ago, the plan called for keeping him at 180 or fewer in his first full season as a big-league starter. He’s already at 1652/3.
Now, after he opened September with his fifth seven-inning effort in six starts and his most impressive in the stretch, Sveum said, ‘‘I don’t know if we’re going to assess it or not. Obviously, it’s getting to that point, but he’s as strong as he possibly can be. It’s something we’ll probably address, but I don’t know if anything will come about it. He’s getting stronger, it almost looks like.’’
In other words, he might get a chance to let it ride for what figures to be five more starts.
Unlike Nationals ace Strasburg, who’s coming off Tommy John surgery, Samardzija has no injury history and, in his mind, less reason to even consider an innings limit.
‘‘You put your work in in the off-season to be in this situation,’’ he said. ‘‘You just get strong, you keep doing your work. And I just know that’s how I am. . . . I know I’m a second-half player. . . .
‘‘A big thing for me was just to prove to [the team] that I could pitch strong late into the season and wouldn’t need a break. . . . That way you can hang your hat on a full year and going into next year not saying, ‘Oh, we didn’t do this or we didn’t do that.’
‘‘I don’t know what their plan is or what they’re thinking, but as long as they’re telling me I’m pitching every fifth day, I’m going to be prepared to do it and be strong enough to do it, for sure.’’