Jeff Samardzija wants kids to play if they’re ready
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 2, 2014 12:08AM
Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija laughs in the dugout during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
MESA, Ariz. — Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija didn’t have to see the one-inning showcase Friday for the team’s top prospects to influence his strong opinions of their talent — and when he’d like to see them on a big-league field when he’s pitching.
Checking all development boxes? Taking service time into account? Waiting?
Not if they’re ready to compete in the big leagues right away, Samardzija said.
“You’ve got to come with all your bullets in the major leagues,” said the most tenured Cub in the clubhouse, “and when they [can] help us out, we’re looking forward to it.”
It might even have a bearing on the right-hander’s status with the team over the next several months. With contract talks long staled, he’s a near certainty to be traded by the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
Even a decent start by the Cubs is going to keep that from happening. But a surprise-the-world start that puts the Cubs well over .500 and among the league leaders by midseason would make it hard to justify another sell-off.
“I don’t know what the plan is for these guys and whether [team officials] want to take it slow or what not,” he said. “I know performance plays, and if you go out and don’t give them any options, sometimes you take the decision out of their hands.
“I’m sure that’s what those guys will tell you they’re trying to do: impress enough to where you don’t give the front office or coaching staff any options but to keep you on the team.”
Outfielder Albert Almora and third baseman Kris Bryant, the sixth and second overall picks in the last two drafts, respectively, are in their first big-league camps and are new to Samardzija.
But top prospect Javy Baez, who had one of the top offensive seasons in the minors last season, is more familiar. He’s expected by many to debut this season.
“I’ve seen enough of Baez to enjoy watching him play,” Samardzija said. “My thing about teammates is I like guys who put everything out on the field and leave it all out there — controlled reckless abandon, I guess you can say I like. And I see that in Baez. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He has something to prove. I love watching that swing, too.”
In the seventh inning of a blowout loss Friday to the Los Angeles Angels, the Cubs sent all of the Big Four to the plate. Almora drove a double to left; Jorge Soler struck out; Bryant worked a full count, fouled off two more pitches and hit a 400-plus-foot home run; and Baez hit a rocket that was snared at third.
“Great at-bat for [Bryant],” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Saturday. “They all showed well. It’s obviously a confidence-building moment for all of them.”
Samardzija has seen that confidence and poise in the touted kids all spring. He seems to believe they can handle the hype and pressure that comes with this fishbowl team.
“I’ve talked to a couple older guys in the clubhouse,” Samardzija said. “With all the attention they’ve been getting, they’ve really kept their heads on great, kept their mouths shut, and I said the same thing about Junior [Lake] last year.”
The rookie outfielder got off to a torrid start at the plate and ran the outfield with abandon after debuting in July.
“Junior came up, did his work, got to the field early, was never late,” Samardzija said. “He played hard, he prepared. I think that’s a good guy for those guys to look at and see how he came in and had immediate success and why.
“He wasn’t expecting to come up and be the guy from the beginning. He did his job, and all of a sudden we were finding spots to put him in the lineup and positions to put him in the field. That’s what you want, to be a versatile player.
“We don’t miss that. The coaches don’t miss that. They see when you can play different positions, when you’re out there playing hard, and that’s what [the new kids] can learn.”
Rain forces changes to pitching schedule
The first rainfall of spring training cost the Cubs two games Saturday and wiped out the best-laid plans of pitching coach Chris Bosio for his pitchers.
After cancelations of an afternoon game against the Giants and a night game against the Diamondbacks, the Cubs scheduled a “B” game against the Los Angeles Angels for Monday in Tempe, Ariz., to recoup lost pitcher innings.
Veterans Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva, both of whom were scheduled to pitch Saturday night, have been rescheduled for the game Sunday against the Royals.
Newcomer Jason Hammel, who was scheduled to start Sunday, will make his Cubs debut in the “B” game Monday.
Travis Wood, who was scheduled to start Saturday against the Giants, pitched a two-inning simulated game in the covered bullpen.
Fans with tickets for Saturday’s games can redeem them for future games this spring.