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Pitching coach Don Cooper takes blame for Jeff Samardzija's struggles

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the second time in a week, Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper put the poor season from starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija all on his own shoulders.

Samardzija, who was believed to be a key addition at last year’s winter meetings, had a miserable 2015 season, especially in the second half when he went 1-8 with a 9.24 ERA during one eight-start stretch.

“Man, I failed. It didn’t work out the way any of us would have wanted,” Cooper said, while visiting the White Sox’s traveling contingent at the winter meetings. “That’s not to say anything negative about Jeff. He’s a quality pitcher and has many great assets, and I wish him the best.

“I never wish poorly on anybody, because I feel if you do that something’s going to come back and bite you in the ass. It just didn’t work, and that’s one as I sit home [I think about] when I do get around to thinking baseball.”

Cooper, a resident of Nashville in the offseason, also took the blame for Samardzija’s struggles while giving a radio interview in Chicago this past weekend.

It wasn’t until the final month of the season that Samardzija started to improve, when a mechanical flaw was discovered on video and subsequently fixed. It suggested that the pitcher's contact with Cooper was fairly limited as the season came to a close. Neither Cooper nor Samardzija have said their working relationship was compromised and general manager Rick Hahn shot down any idea that there was a rift.

“There was communication on a daily basis, and an open and honest communication on a regular basis,” Hahn said. “There might not have been full agreement on what was going to be the remedy, but that’s not totally atypical, especially when you have a veteran guy who’s had success and sort of feels like he knows, and he does know more than anybody how he feels and what he’s doing and what he thinks are his keys to success.”

Despite Samardzija's second-half struggles, the San Francisco Giants still signed him to a five-year, $90 million free-agent deal.

Cooper also addressed a Sports Illustrated story from last month that detailed how White Sox pitcher Erik Johnson used a coach from outside of the organization to help him rebound from a shaky 2014 season.

The right-hander used that outside tutelage to become the International League pitcher of the year at Triple-A Charlotte in 2015, with the distinct possibility that he will be a member of the White Sox’s rotation next season.

“My ego’s not hurt by that,” Cooper said. “I just want to win and I want guys who are going to put us in a position to win. I know that Erik Johnson feels good about himself, and from a pitching coach perspective, I’m not going to do anything to destroy that. Just go out and do the things we need you to do, and he knows the things we need him to do.

“It really comes down to throwing all of your pitches aggressively, and he certainly was aggressive. He did a nice job in his return and now the term ‘Let’s pick up where we left off’ comes to mind."