Samardzija Keeps Rolling at Triple-A

DES MOINES – Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Jeff Samardzija overwhelmed Class AAA Nashville on Sunday, striking out nine batters, walking one and allowing just two hits in a 2-1 Iowa Cubs victory. With still air worsening a 90-degree afternoon, the right-hander made his fifth quality start in six appearances since being promoted from Class AA Tennessee on June 24.

Samardzija's nine punch-outs tied a career-high that he had set in his previous start.

"He's got major league stuff," Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason said after Sunday's game. "What he's learning to do is get ahead and put them away with his (splitfinger). And that's been pretty much – at this level – a dominant pitch.

"He's got an out-pitch for late in the count, and he's able to throw his other stuff to get back into the count. He's developing real well as a pitcher."

Nashville scored off Samardzija (4-1) in the sixth inning, but only after the runner should have been in the dugout. Pinch-hitter Mel Stocker singled to lead off the inning and then stole second on the following pitch. Samardzija then slowed his delivery and nearly caught Stocker attempting to steal again on his next pitch.

Stocker was hung up, but returned to second after the base was left unattended by the Cubs' defense. Samardzija then struck out leadoff hitter Tony Gwynn Jr., but threw a wild pitch to the next hitter, Sounds third baseman Vinny Rottino, that allowed Stocker to advance to third. Rottino then hit a sacrifice fly to score Stocker.

Samardzija was pulled after the sixth with 86 pitches.

"The command of my fastball has been good. I think that's kind of been the key to everything," said Samardzija. "I've been able to throw all of my pitches whenever I want, knowing I can get back to my fastball. I've been kind of going off that, getting ahead of hitters.

"The two hits (Sunday) I know came off 3-1 counts. It just shows that when you're ahead in the count, you can do some things. Behind in the count, you're kind of handcuffed," he added.

Samardzija had difficulties throwing strikes earlier in the season. With Tennessee, he walked 26 hitters over six starts from April 25-May 20. His ERA rose from 2.35 to 6.14 over those games, and Samardzija even made one relief appearance before being re-inserted into the rotation.

But he made five quality starts with Tennessee before being promoted to Triple-A, and for the second straight season, Samardzija has excelled at a new level following a promotion.

Before joining Iowa, he had only two pro starts with six or more strikeouts. He has now struck out six batters or more in his past four games, and has an ERA of 3.13 with Iowa.

"There are a lot more respect strikeouts," said Mason, "because they're trying to respect the 93, 94 [MPH fastball] and they can't lay off the split that's going 85, 86, so he's got a good mix going right now."

Samardzija's lone walk Sunday was issued in the third inning to Sounds pitcher Chris Narveson.

"I think my fastball has come around," Samardzija said. "I think later in the innings I get a little bit better warmed up, and the (speed) is a little higher. I threw (the fastball) a few times with two strikes, and I threw my splitter a few times with two strikes."

Samardzija said he has gained confidence from playing with a good team. Iowa is 62-41 on the season and lead the PCL American Northern Division by six games.

"I'm just throwing the ball over the plate and letting the sinker work," he said of his success. "And that's turning into some foul balls and getting me ahead in the count early. Plus my off-speed pitches have just been thrown for strikes, whereas before, maybe my fastball was good but my off-speed pitches weren't as close or getting as much action as they should be."

Perhaps Samardzija's lone disappointment Sunday was a 0-for-2 effort at the plate. He brought a three-game hitting streak into the game.

In the third inning, he struck out and unintentionally sent a souvenir into the stands when his bat slipped out of his hands and landed in the first row above the home dugout.

"I thought I had it (in) the first at-bat," he said, "but then I lost the bat. But it happens. I wouldn't mind one more at-bat, but it was hot out there. I was thinking of just taking three strikes and walking back to the dugout and saving my energy."

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