Updated: August 14, 2013 12:22AM
If Jeff Samardzija plans to get paid like an ace, he’ll have to pitch like one.
More like he did in retiring 10 of the last 13 batters he faced Tuesday in the Cubs’ 6-4 loss in 11 innings to the Cincinnati Reds.
Not like he did falling behind
almost every hitter in the first two innings and giving up four walks and four runs by the end of the third.
The closest thing the Cubs have to a franchise pitcher has eight starts left to make a case for his place in the core of this rebuilding plan and set the tone in upcoming contract talks.
“Of all the right-handers, I’d say Jeff Samardzija is probably in the first three, four or five in terms of stuff,” said the Reds’ Joey Votto, one of the top hitters in the game. “To me, he’s in that Matt Harvey, [Stephen] Strasburg category in terms of just raw stuff.
“The rest is up to him.”
That’s just it. Is Samardzija the guy who pitched eight innings of two-hit ball in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the guy who beat the White Sox with a two-hit shutout on the South Side in May?
Or is he the guy who walked four or more for the eighth time this season and fought through his fifth non-quality start in his last eight outings?
The answer is the key to his fair market value as the Cubs re-engage in contract talks with the second-year arbitration-eligible pitcher after
what should be 200 innings and a first full season in a major-league rotation.
“We don’t change the way we think about a player because of one start here or nine starts there,” team president Theo Epstein said. “He’s been a big part of our plans as someone who’s important to us in a lot of ways. That’ll be the case regardless of how he finishes out the season.”
Even Samardzija, who says contract concerns don’t affect his pitching, knows the bottom-line effect of performance on price. And he knows what he has to do to be the ace he wants to be.
“When you’re putting 10 guys on in a game, when you’re mixing in five, six hits with a few walks, you’re putting yourself in a situation where you’ve got to battle and throw extra pitches — and big pitches,” he said. “With two outs and a guy on first, those pitches aren’t the same as one out and second and third.
“It’s something we need to
address. . . . We’re going to put an
asterisk of importance next to it and go from there.”
“I imagine those guys probably throw quite a few more strikes and walk less batters and have better command of their fastball,” said Votto, who drew a four-pitch walk against Samardzija. “Not to say that [Samardzija] doesn’t have good command of his fastball, but his stuff is just as good as those guys’, and he doesn’t have quite the numbers as those guys do.
“So there’s got to be something in the way of him being an elite pitcher.”
Samardzija has seven more walks this season in four fewer starts than he did in 2012. He has been particularly up and down since the end of June.
It’s the kind of stuff Epstein called “the last remaining hurdle for him.”
“He’s got tremendous stuff,”
Epstein said, “and tremendous makeup. Really, the only thing separating him from being the pitcher we believe he can be is the consistency, taking it to the mound every time.
“The raw materials are still there, and I trust him based on his makeup and aptitude to reach his ceiling, even if it hasn’t quite happened yet.”