PITTSBURGH -- It turns out that Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum was right about the call to go to his closer in the ninth inning Monday, but wrong about how it would be received in the clubhouse.
Sveum made the unpopular move of removing Jeff Samardzija after eight innings, even though the right-hander had given up just one hit and had thrown 99 pitches. Carlos Marmol came on in the ninth inning to close out the 2-0 victory over the streaking Pittsburgh Pirates.
Sveum said his decision to remove his dominating starter came down to a 27-minute top of the ninth inning when the Cubs somehow only managed to score one insurance run.
"That was no doubt the best stuff [Samardzija] had,” Sveum said. “He had his two-seamer working, he kept the ball down, elevated when he wanted, obviously had his split working and he could get back in the count with his slider. It was impressive. I don’t think I’m on his Christmas list right now, but … ”
But nothing. As it turns out, despite looking none too thrilled with the move has he watched Marmol close out the victory, Samardzija had no issues over being removed from the best game he has pitched in a Cubs uniform.
“He’s still on my Christmas list … just not tonight, you know,” joked Samardzija, who doesn’t have a complete game in his career. “The coach's job is to look out for the players and the player's job is to go out there and play the game. Obviously everybody has emotions and opinions on things and that’s just the way the game goes. Skip’s been great all year and we played a great game as a team so it’s not all about what I can do.”
Actually, if the Cubs want to turn into a winner over time, it probably is about what Samardzija can do. He has not been among deadline trade rumors of late because the Cubs envision him as a big part of a successful rotation at some point in the near future.
Dempster still figures to be the first to go, with a deal to the Atlanta Braves still being talked about, even though Dempster said there was nothing doing Monday. The Cubs and Braves have reportedly agreed to a deal, but as a player with 10 years in the league and five with the same club, Dempster has the right to approve any move.
Seeing Dempster go might be hardest on Samardzija.
“Me and Demp have put a lot of time into this game in the offseason, during the season,” Samardzija said. “We’re kind of similar in a way where he throws fastball, slider, split like I do. He’s easy to watch and see how to attack these hitters and it relates to me very well.
“The list goes on. We can sit here all day and I can tell you what Demp has done for me. It’s good just to have that veteran mind and those veteran eyes around so that at any point in the game he can say ‘Hey, I’m seeing this, I’m seeing that.’”
On Monday, Samardzija showed that he’s all grown up now. Well … almost. Had he covered first base in the fourth inning on a ground ball from Andrew McCutchen, he might have gotten a chance to pitch the ninth inning despite the 27-minute wait.
McCutchen’s hit was obviously the only one Samardzija gave up on the night. It was a slow roller off the end of the bat toward second base. With Darwin Barney playing behind second base on the shift, Anthony Rizzo moved to his right to field the ball. But when Samardzija hesitated while getting off the mound, he wasn’t fast enough to recover and beat McCutchen to the bag.
Losing no-hitters in the ninth inning is cruel, but when the only hit you allow comes on an infield single that didn’t have to be, it might be just as maddening
“How he hit it threw me off for a second since he hit it off the end [of the bat],” Samardzija said. “Then I froze. And I’ve talked to Rizzo before about wanting him to be aggressive just because I feel I have the athleticism to get over there to first. That’s on me right there. He made a nice aggressive play and I need to be at first base for sure.”
It was a learning lesson that didn’t need a veteran presence. Perhaps Samardzija is ready to move on without Dempster at his side after all.