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Thursday, February 29

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Cubs Tue Apr 10 2012

Samardzija Shines in First Cubs Victory

Cubs_200.pngI'm sure I'm not the only one to think that the (now second) best wide receiver in Chicago had been wasting his talents by pitching for the Cubs for quite some time. But an inspiring stint in Mesa followed by a brilliant 8 2/3 innings on Sunday have people like me rethinking Jeff Samardzija's worth as a baseball player.

His misfortunes to this point in his career hadn't been totally his fault either. The Cubs convinced him to choose baseball after college by offering him $10 million over five years along with an immediate spot on the 40-man roster - a major mistake by the team. It eventually led to unearned promotions, rushed development, and a frequent ride back and forth to Iowa.

This year's spring training was potentially his last with the Cubs since any demotion would force the team to put him on waivers - something he'd never get through without another team grabbing him. That option was never even considered after he showed great command in nearly every outing in Arizona.

He continued flashing the same dominance against the Nationals on Sunday with total control over all three of his pitches. His fastball worked in the mid- to upper-90s the whole game, the slider was biting beautifully (logging an 82% strike rate with it), and his splitter was consistently at or below the knees of the confused Washington hitters. His performance gives the organization and fans something to look forward to every fifth day.

Other notes from the weekend...

-The bullpen is awful. With just six arms at his disposal, Dale Sveum went to closer Carlos Marmol in every game of the opening series, and he didn't pitch well in any of them. Marmol luckily cleaned up the mess Starlin Castro made of a game-ending grounder during Samardzija's masterpiece, but not without walking a batter before he finished.

-I know everyone loves him, but Kerry Wood is no more than a mascot at this point in his career. He's still got the stuff to be out there, but has little control over either his fastball or cutter he throws on nearly every pitch. His $3 million deal seemed steep to me for a team with no thoughts of contending, but I'm guessing it's an attempt for Wood to endear himself to the new management for the post career job that Jim Hendry promised him.

-All three starters pitched well over the weekend, but the question is whether the players that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer brought in could live up to the same standards. Chris Volstad couldn't. He gave up three runs and recorded six strikeouts over five innings with the wind blowing out. Not horrible, but the top three guys set the bar awfully high.

-Watching Starlin Castro (four steals) run all over the Nationals was exactly what I wanted to see. His future isn't batting in the power spots of the lineup, it's setting the table and moving runners around with his relentless swinging and swatting at everything he sees, and running when there is nobody in front of him. Sveum is trying to win games, but he's not forgetting to develop his young talent in the process. Let's hope it continues.

The Cubs get three more games against the Brewers, then take to the road for a six game trip against St. Louis and Miami. The month of April is packed with games against teams picked to finish above .500 this season. Not the way you'd like to start with a team as young as the Cubs, but trial by fire should weed out some players without futures as well.

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