Jeff Samardzija Begins Campaign for Possible Spot in Chicago Cubs' 2011 Rotation
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With the athleticism that made him an All-American wide receiver, a frame suitable for a future workhorse, and an arm that's both live and fresh, he fits the physical standards for your prototypical major league pitcher.
With a focused demeanor on the mound that could become a formidable presence in the coming years and the kind of work ethic that can only come from within, he has the intangibles you wish for too.
The only thing that Jeff Samardzija has always needed more of is experience. Of course, that's just how it is when you grow up playing multiple sports.
He lettered in baseball, football, and basketball in high school, never missing a start in over 160 games between the three sports. He even played some hockey in his youth, helping to exclude him from summer and fall baseball and basically leaving him with one-third the practice and playing time of his peers right from the outset.
Continuing as a two-sport athlete on a football scholarship to Notre Dame didn't exactly help him find time for baseball, but even then he played in every football game for four years and never missed his turn on the mound.
It was only in 2007, at the age of 22, that he finally got to concentrate solely on the one sport he loved the most.
He's had his share of struggles since then—both in the majors and the minors, in the rotation and the bullpen, in this season and the last. But he's also shown glimpses of what he could one day become, such as his debut in the big leagues back in 2008, when he allowed only seven earned runs in 27.2 innings.
When Carlos Silva was scratched from his start against the Cardinals Monday night due to tendinitis, the 25-year-old was called upon to take his place. With all of his minor league options used, it was an important test for an undeniably gifted athlete.
Although by no means perfect, the hard-throwing righty got the job done and helped the Cubs defeat Jaime Garcia, a potential National League Rookie of the Year candidate, by a score of 5-1.
Using a minimalistic windup, Samardzija featured a fastball that was consistently between 93 and 96 miles per hour. He also used his slider and splitter a good deal, both sitting in the low to mid 80s and both being thrown with much more confidence than they had been earlier this season.
His command was a little shaky, leading to four walks and a hit batter, but he was effective enough in 5.2 innings to not allow a single run to score and to allow one fewer hit than his counterpart.
Once he gets a little more comfortable with his secondary pitches, it wouldn't surprise me if he went back to a more conventional windup to the benefit of both his velocity and movement. He just needs to get better command of all of his pitches first.
There's still plenty of room left for improvement, but Monday night was at least an encouraging sign for the future. He even hit an RBI single in the top of the second inning to give himself a two-run advantage.
When he makes his next start, most likely against the Marlins in Miami on Sunday, the Cubs' brass will be paying close attention to help inform their decision on what to do for next year. Maybe you should keep an eye out too.
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