The Taming of the Shark
Jeff Samardzija has relatively low big league mileage for how loathed he is among Cubs fans. Or should I say was loathed–his surprising second half last season seems to have wiped away the memories of inherited runners jogging the basepaths and leads vanishing in an instant. There was a time not so long ago that Samardzija couldn’t be trusted in a close game, and only saw the mound when the team needed to eat up some garbage time.
Fast forward to his start last Wednesday, when Samardzija looked dominant–or whatever the early Spring Training equivalent of dominant is–against the Royals, striking out three batters over three scoreless innings of work. Twitter quickly flooded with excited Cubs fans ready to name the Shark as a semi-lock for the third slot as a starting
pirate pitcher. No less than seasoned beat reporters and professional skeptics paused to bask in the glow of Samardzija’s hot start.
#Cubs Samardzija 3 Ks, gives up 1 bloop single over 3 IP in solid outing. Competition for rotation spots just got a little tighter
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) March 7, 2012
Samardzija throws three scoreless, 1-hit innings vs KC. Already seems like a rotation lock.
— Paul Sullivan (@PWSullivan) March 7, 2012
That’s high praise, even if you factor in Sullivan’s constant ironic detachment. From the moment he stepped off the mound that day, Samardzija has been the Hansel of the Cubs’ camp.
But it seems not everyone was buying the instantaneous hype. No less than HRH Keith Law was not looking for space on the Samardzija bandwagon.
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) March 7, 2012
And who can blame him? Even after five years of limited duty–and even more limited production–it’s hard to know what we can reasonably expect from Samardzija. The simple fact is he pitched more last season than he has in all his previous big league stints combined. And seeing as his first half wasn’t stellar, there’s not a lot of positive work on the field to draw confidence from.
Yes, he was effective in his setup role last year. But he’s also fallen on his face plenty in that same role, and never done enough to earn a consistent spot in the rotation. So which segment of his body of work should I look at and which ones should I ignore to make up my mind about a guy who has spent most of his career falling short of expectations? Should I really believe that he’s finally committed to the hard work, that he’s determined to earn a starting spot? Or should I remind myself that he’s usually good for only 20-30 pitches, that anyone can look dominant in the first week of Spring Training, and that his performance yesterday was more in line with the Samardzija we know?
My gut says that Samardzija might pitch well enough in Mesa to earn a starting spot, but that he won’t hold onto it all season. With all the hype surrounding him and the lack of viable arms in camp, I think the Cubs might be inclined to give him one last good shot to show what he can do with the opportunity. But I don’t see him having the success or the health to stick it out for the season. I’m not confident that his skills or his arm are up to the increase in workload, so one way or another, I think he’s heading back to the bullpen before the season’s over. Which is fine, since he proved last year that’s a role he can be successful in.
But what do I know? My gut is far from prescient–I wrote this about Alfonso Soriano last week and he’s currently hitting in the .570’s. If it means a more reliable pitching staff and more wins for the Cubs, I’m happy to be proven wrong.