No-decision for solid Jeff Samardzija, but Cubs top Marlins 5-1 in rain-shortened game
By GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org July 18, 2012 10:24PM
Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija throws against the Miami Marlins during the first inning of a baseball game in Chicago, Wednesday, July 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: August 20, 2012 12:00PM
Anybody wanting to know what the Cubs plan to do for starting pitching once Ryan Dempster and possibly Matt Garza are traded in the next week or so, get in line.
Randy Wells just went on the minor-league disabled list with an elbow strain. Chris Volstad just got rocked again Tuesday at Class AAA Iowa and hasn’t looked much better there than he did in nine winless starts for the big club.
And team president Theo Epstein just took another verbal swipe Wednesday at the overall pitching depth in the farm system.
If anything, a 5-1 victory over the Marlins that was called after one out in the top of the eighth and a 77-minute rain delay might have offered the best glimpse of the Cubs’ pitching blueprint for the last two months:
Jeff Samardzija and pray for, uh, well, thunderstorms. Or whatever kind of downpour rhymes with Samardzija.
Or, as actor Will Ferrell pronounced it when announcing the Cubs’ lineup before the game, ‘‘Samarji-ji-ji-ja.’’
Whatever the rhyme or reason, Samardzija’s profile takes an immediate upward turn for the Cubs once Dempster, who owns the majors’ best ERA, is traded to the Dodgers, Braves, Red Sox, Tigers or Nationals.
The biggest question left involving a Dempster trade is whether it’ll happen before his next scheduled start, Friday in St. Louis.
Either way, the focus — if not the burden — shifts to Samardzija as a front man for the rotation.
‘‘He’s that guy we all feel we have a chance of building a rotation around, depending on, obviously, what happens here in the next couple of weeks,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘But he’s that guy.’’
That’s why they stayed the course with the first-time, full-time big-league starter through his winless June.
Even in a five-inning start — he was lifted for a pinch hitter in a 1-1 game with a runner at second in the fifth — Samardzija struck out nine and showed flashes of the electric stuff the Cubs put their faith in months ago when committing to him as a starter.
‘‘With not knowing what’s going to happen, you’ve just got to stay on your toes and understand that tomorrow might be a little bit different,’’ said Samardzija, who fought himself early after taking the mound for the first time since the All-Star break.
‘‘I understand what my role is with this team and what it’s going to be in the future, and I’m really trying to do everything I can today so down the road when you are relied upon, you’re ready to take the reins and do what you’ve got to do.
‘‘Is that the situation you want? Obviously, I want to be the guy, but it also would be nice to have Dempster or Garza throwing in front of you or behind you.’’
In three starts this month, Samardzija has a 2.64 ERA and has allowed more than a run only once, with the Cubs winning two of those games. They rallied for four runs in the seventh to take the lead before a thundershower halted play.
‘‘He’s going to be that guy hopefully we can build around and be the No. 1 or No. 2 guy,’’ Sveum said.
Meanwhile, it looks like a slow building process. The Cubs are the most aggressive sellers in this year’s trade market. And if they’re able to move three or four players for the returns they’re looking for, the rest of the season will include a lot of trial-and-error big-league baseball for a team admittedly lacking high-minors depth.
‘‘No matter what we do [in trades], we’ll field a roster that will prepare hard and go out and compete each night,’’ Epstein said, ‘‘and keep trying to win games.’’
Epstein wouldn’t speculate on how many trades might be coming, but he acknowledged that there seem to be more buyers this year because of the extra wild-card spots and that the pace of conversations is picking up.
‘‘We’re not going to make moves for the sake of making moves,’’ he said. ‘‘They have to put us in a better position to succeed.’’