Chris Bosio likens Jeff Samardzija to ex-mate Randy Johnson
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter May 10, 2014 11:34PM
Updated: June 12, 2014 7:09AM
ATLANTA — Chris Bosio charted all his pitches, kept track of the number he threw and watched start after start as the guy with the hair flying out the back of his cap kept shutting down major-league lineups.
Yeah, the Cubs’ pitching coach was talking Saturday about Jeff Samardzija. But he mostly he was talking about former Seattle Mariners teammate Randy Johnson in the 1990s.
‘‘Randy was the key to our winning series because of what he brought,’’ Bosio said. ‘‘He gave the bullpen a rest. He was a showman out there. And Jeff has those qualities.
‘‘Randy being the strikeout king, along with Nolan Ryan, Jeff’s probably not going to be a 300-strikeout guy because Jeff has learned how to pitch a little bit better than Randy and being more pitch-efficient.’’
Samardzija showed his new fastball-first, quick-out approach again Saturday, pitching six more scoreless innings against the Atlanta Braves to lower his ERA to 1.45, second in the majors to the Cincinnati Reds’ Johnny Cueto’s 1.43.
A lengthy rain delay, in which he threw two simulated innings in the bullpen to stay ready, led to an abbreviated 69-pitch outing after he threw 126 in his last start.
‘‘We talked about it,’’ a smiling Samardzija said. ‘‘I could have went back out, but we agreed it was a long rain delay.’’
Samardzija doesn’t have the number of victories Johnson had racked up at this point in his career — almost impossibly, he remained 0-3 after the Braves pushed two runs across in the seventh on their way to a 2-0 victory — but Bosio said he has the same kind of strength, durability and fan appeal.
‘‘I saw what [Johnson] did,’’ Bosio said. ‘‘Jeff is every bit as athletic as Randy — and a hell of a lot more. And Randy would be the one to tell you. But the one thing Randy brought — and the one thing that Jeff brings — is just unbelievable burning desire to compete and win.’’
Johnson, of course, had Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner in the heart of a high-scoring lineup. Samardzija, on the other hand, has 14 consecutive starts without a victory since
August. The Cubs’ average of 1.9 runs in his eight starts this season is near the worst in baseball.
What Bosio leaves out when he compares Samardzija with Johnson is that Samardzija is all but assured of being traded in July because talks on a contract extension are dead. He also doesn’t mention that Johnson won four consecutive Cy Young Awards in the first four full seasons (1999-2002) after the Mariners traded him.
Nobody is saying Samardzija is on the way to a Cy Young Award or a Hall of Fame career. But everybody in the organization admits he has high value on and off the field to everything the Cubs are trying to do in their rebuilding process.
That includes Johnson-like marketing potential. In his final full season with the Mariners in 1997, Johnson attracted 6,075 more fans per start than the team drew when he didn’t start.
‘‘I charted him for four years, and I saw those people in the stands,’’ Bosio said. ‘‘Those are marketable guys. Those are franchise players. I think we all feel the same about Jeff Samardzija — the fans, coaches, players, front office. We know what this guy brings every fifth day and in between. He’s a great teammate. He’s a leader. On and off the field, this guy brings a lot to any club, especially ours right now.’’
For maybe 10 or 14 more starts. And maybe even a victory or two.