Jeff Samardzija or Aaron Heilman to Start for the Cubs? How About Neither?

Damen JacksonCorrespondent IMarch 6, 2009

Jeff Samardzija-Aaron Heilman-Sean Marshall-Chicago Cubs

Jeff Samardzija


Filed: March 6, 2009

Catch the Vegas games?

I did, and I won't even begin to tell you how nice it was to sit down, grab something cold, and catch a couple of baseball games on TV. It almost felt like summer for a moment.

The Cubs lost both games in the pair against the White Sox at Cashman Field, 7-6 and 4-3. While there was little of note for the Cubs in the losses, one thing that certainly stood out was the performances of Jeff Samardzija and Aaron Heilman, both candidates for the fifth-starter slot.

You know, rarely do you have an opportunity to gauge a position battle so closely, with Aaron Heilman taking the mound less than 12 hours after Jeff, facing most of the same hitters as from the night before. And I have to say, the contrast was stark.

When I heard at the Cubs convention that Jeff Samrdzija was told to come to camp ready to start, I guess I had a vision of what we might expect. Perhaps a bit more mature. A little more command. Maybe even a nice third pitch from him; you know, something to at least show hitters.

What I saw (for the second consecutive start) was a very unpolished rookie. The fastball looked as laissez-faire as ever, his breaking pitches didn't appear close to major-league grade, and personally I thought he was still going to the high fastball way too often on hitters.

He didn't have a good night Wednesday, giving up three runs in his three innings of work. I still haven't seen a good multi-inning start out of him, either Cactus League or the majors. It's early in the spring, I know. But the effort more than the results right now are what's troubling me.

Aaron Heilman on the other hand threw three shutout innings Thursday afternoon, the second consecutive outing in which he's gone scoreless. It was a good performance, even if he didn't look nearly as sharp as his stats may have you believe.

But man, I can see why he drove Mets fans nuts. Nice fastball, and a real good change. But he will dance around and nibble at hitters to the point of frustration.

I got to believe that by the second time through the order, this is someone that you can settle in on, and really start lighting up as a batter, once you can see a few of those fastballs. Give him credit for being something of a battler, and making good pitches when he has to, but Heilman as a starter? Don't see it.

Here's the thing though. It took about two innings from both to see why Sean Marshall has become the front-runner for the last spot in the rotation. And barring some team deciding to write off their season early and make a good starter available in trade, it makes a great deal of sense.

In the meantime however, while Aaron Heilman most certainly has a spot on the Opening Day roster, I'm feeling less certain about Jeff.

Long term, I think he'll be fine. And I tend to agree with the Cubs in that his highest and best use is as a starter. But given that idea, can he really withstand another shaky performance, especially given that the Cubs have middle-relief candidates better suited for that role?

Frankly, if Samardzija can't find better location on his fastball in his next start, I suspect that the next stop maybe Iowa.