Samardzija falls into classic speed trap

MESA, Ariz. – Mastering the art of positive reinforcement, Cubs manager Dale Sveum is saying that Jeff Samardzija’s rough outing Friday was actually a good thing.

Samardzija was knocked around by the Colorado Rockies, giving up seven runs on 10 hits in four innings. Still in line to be a starter for the first time in his career, the Notre Dame product might have gained valuable knowledge.

“I think in his case he probably learned a lesson about yesterday and understanding the starting rotation when you have to face 40 batters, the soft stuff has to come into play,” Sveum said. “You can’t throw 90 percent of all your pitches 91 mph and above.”

Samardzija not only failed to vary his pitch speed very much he was also up in the zone which proved to be a difficult combination to overcome.

By all accounts, Samardzija is still a favorite to land a rotation spot, assuming he applies what he learned Friday over his final two outings in the desert.

Sveum did say in a radio interview Saturday with ESPN analyst and XM broadcaster Jim Bowden that it would be hard to deny a rotation spot for Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm. Samardzija was bunched with Rodrigo Lopez and Randy Wells as candidates for the final spot.

Sveum said the rotation should be set by Wednesday.

“More than anything I think he got away from what built his confidence,” Sveum said. “He didn’t pitch inside at all. He got no ground balls, no balls put into play on broken bats. I think we were pitching into his glove side too much and it got him in trouble. I think he got away from what has really made him successful early in the spring and last half of last season.”

Personnel wise it wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Cubs if Lopez or Wells earned a starting spot and Samardzija landed in the bullpen. The club is even less set on relievers than it is on starters.

But Samardzija had been impressive every step of the way before Friday in his quest to be a starter and the spot still seems to be his to lose. Sveum was asked if Samardzija’s poor outing opened the door for somebody else to be a starter.

“I don’t think so,” Sveum said. “We’ll find that out. He has a couple more starts but the velocity, everything is there. That’s more pitch selection and understanding. It’s probably the best thing that happened to him to tell you the truth.”