Samardzija still has work to do

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
3:41
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments in 2013 and appears to have taken a step up toward the elite starters in the National League.

While his 8-12 record with a 4.33 ERA doesn’t seem impressive, a look at the entire body of his work is essential for an objective analysis.

Samardzija has gone from bullpen setup man to one of the more impressive pitchers in the National League in three seasons. Consider that the former Notre Dame football star was one of just three pitchers in the league with 200 innings pitched and 200 strikeouts going into the last five days of the 2013 campaign.

The downside of the ledger has Samardzija allowing the second-most earned runs (100 ) and giving up the second-most walks (78) in the league. A lack of trust in all of his off-speed pitches and some occasional fastball inconsistency have altered the numbers a bit for the Cubs pitcher.

“I think fastball command for me is when you want to throw it in the zone, you throw it in the zone,” Samardzija said Wednesday. “I believe that I throw hard enough so it doesn’t always have to be a perfectly-placed pitch to get the job done. On the other hand, if you are consistently missing on your location, they will take advantage of it.”

The long ball has hurt Samardzija in middle-to-late innings this season, costing him wins. He ranks fourth in homers allowed, having given up 25.

“They all have been on my soft stuff,” he said. “They all have been late in the count and they have been on off-speed pitches. I gave up one to Pedro Alvarez on a splitter after having shown him two or three splitters in the at-bat. A lot have been on splits and sliders. These have come many times after 80 to 100 pitches. I need to improve on that by bearing down mentally and realizing you can’t fall into a predictable trap or mode. You still have to trust your fastball even if you have thrown a lot of pitches in a game.”

Cubs manager Dale Sveum has seen Samardzija’s improvement as a highlight for the future of the pitcher and the ballclub.

“His season has been wrapped up toward the minus side in about eight of the 200 innings he has pitched,” Sveum said. “That is all it took to change the ERA and some results. Those are the little things that happen when you start overthrowing and try to strike everyone out. Jeff has made great strides, but he is still learning how to stay away from the big inning.”

Samardzija has some offseason plans to make himself more viable in 2014.

“I think we have taken some good steps,” the pitcher related. “This year I wanted to prove I could go tape-to-tape and make all of my starts. It was important to show I could be that guy, that no matter what happened I would take the ball and pitch. We have done that, so now I must refine my game to become the next level pitcher I feel I can be.”

Pitching coach Chris Bosio has a plan for all of his pitchers, including Samardzija, to adhere to in this offseason’s conditioning program.

“We want him to go on a more stringent lifting and conditioning program, to try and come up with that extra 20 quality innings next year,”
Bosio said. “It is the same thing we are asking our other starters. They will have to use light weights and train to get to that 220-inning level we want them at. We want them to come into spring training faster and stronger than they ever have been. Mentally they must be ready to make 34-35 starts. You have to do the little things to get better as a pitcher.”

Bruce Levine | email

Chicago baseball beat reporter
Bruce Levine has covered sports in Chicago for over 28 years and hosts "Talkin' Baseball," heard Saturday mornings on ESPN 1000.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.98 104 108
OTHER LEADERS
BAA. Rizzo .284
HRA. Rizzo 25
RBIA. Rizzo 55
RA. Rizzo 70
OPSA. Rizzo .924
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOJ. Hammel 104