Samardzija Working to Find His Control

When Jeff Samardzija was sent to Class AAA Iowa from Chicago last month, Cubs manager Lou Piniella said the highly touted right-hander and $10 million bonus baby from the 2006 draft needed to work on throwing more quality pitches.

In a nutshell, that means more strikes. So far, it's been a mixed bag for the former Notre Dame star and two-sport athlete since coming back to Iowa.

In eight innings since the move, Samardzija is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in six appearances. But he also has seven walks, a wild pitch, and he has hit a batter.

Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason said it's not a matter of just flipping a switch.

"Obviously in the big leagues, if you aren't doing the job, you don't pitch as much," Mason said. "So he's going to pitch more consistently down here. He's got a decent changeup, a good split, and his breaking ball is workable. It's not going to be a swing-and-miss pitch, but it's going to be a good compliment to his fastball."

But throwing more strikes and limiting the walks is the most important thing, and to that end, Mason said he has been pleased with Samardzija overall.

"He's been throwing (well)," Mason said. But he cautioned, "You get away with stuff in Triple-A that you won't in the big leagues."

In his first Triple-A appearance back on April 25, the 25-year-old Samardzija walked three batters (one intentional) in one inning. Then in a May 3 appearance against New Orleans, he quickly retired the first two men he faced in the ninth inning before allowing two singles, a walk, and a hit batsman.

He has since followed that up with 3 2/3 scoreless innings in his last two outings (May 7 against Oklahoma City and May 11 against Las Vegas), but has allowed three walks.

Samardzija says he understands the importance of throwing strikes and getting ahead of batters, and that control takes care of itself with time on the mound.

"I'm a repetition kind of guy and the more I'm pitching, the better it goes," Samardzija said. "You've got to pump the zone, especially coming out of the ‘pen. It's not like as a starter where you've got a chance to get into your groove and (it can) take an inning or two. You've got to come out and make it happen right now."

He added that his arm feels fine and that his work now is all about zoning in and being sharp with pitches.

"I'm pumping the zone with strikes and forcing action," Samardzija said. "Since I've been in Triple-A, that's what's happened. The other night (against New Orleans), it kind of got away from me. I got two quick outs and was probably being excited and wanting to put the game away, but we're still working on things and that's what it's all about here."

Samardzija isn't working on a specific pitch, he said.

"I've been trained to get away from that," he said. "I've been trained to go back to what I do best. Instead of going out and finding pitches that maybe you don't throw, I'm just throwing pitches that I feel comfortable throwing and making those as good as they can be."

Taken in the fifth round by the Cubs four summers ago, Samardzija surprised some by turning down a career in the N.F.L. as a wide receiver. He came up through the Cubs' system as a starter, but made his big league debut in 2008 as a reliever, going 1-0 with a 2.28 ERA in 26 appearances with Chicago.

Does Samardzija miss starting?

"I miss hitting," he quipped. "It's up to them. Obviously you have an idea of what you want to do and what you're comfortable doing. But ultimately, it's out of your hands."

He says he would be fine being a reliever if it meant having a successful big league career.

"You just never know what the team needs," Samardzija said. "I think right now their thoughts are obviously on the bullpen. Things change and things happen fast, especially in this sport. I just want to go out and pitch, and pitch as much as I can.

"I'm still young and still haven't thrown all that many innings, and I'm looking forward to getting out there as much as possible and throwing as many pitches as I can, hopefully without walking guys."

The struggle to stay on the big league roster hasn't dampened Samardzija's spirits, according to Mason.

"He's fine," Mason said. "He knows what it takes to be in the big leagues and when he's not doing it, he understands that he's down and he's been working great. We're trying to build up his arm and it's coming out hot again. It's just a matter of him getting into a rhythm again, and hopefully he goes back up and helps them again."

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