By Bruce Levine-
MESA, Ariz. (CBS) – As the contract talks between the Cubs and starter Jeff Samardzija have been stalled for weeks, getting better at his trade consumes the pitcher’s time here at spring training.
Posting career-highs in innings pitched, starts and strikeouts in 2013 put the 29-year-old at the precipice of stardom, but inconsistent outings in the second half of the season contributed to an unacceptable 5.50 ERA in the back half of the year.
That is something he wants to turn around this season.
“My whole career, I have always added (thrown harder) in times of distress,” Samardzija said Tuesday. “As a starting pitcher you learn that as you go. Softer may be better, but in the bullpen it was a different story. The part now where you sit down after a game and you see that nothing really clicked is a learning tool for me. That usually means that I am moving too fast and not going pitch to pitch. The key for me is to have conviction and purpose with every pitch. My stuff is good, but that is not the answer. I need to rely on a different approach, looking at the situation and hitter, pitching to what the moment dictates.”
A 96-mph fastball works against some power arms like Samardzija, as they look to become pitchers rather than throwers.
“I have heard from the start of my professional career to ‘learn how to pitch,’” he said. “It was only my second year starting last year and first time pitching into September. I learned a lot. I have that experience now to go along with some baseball maturity that comes with throwing 30 games a year.”
The contract talks with the Cubs and Samardzija are still up in the air. Neither side will talk to the media about the negotiations, however, details have a tendency to leak out from time to time.
Samardzija wants to be paid like a future ace. Besides money, some assurances of not being traded are important aspects of the talks. The Cubs are offering five- to six-year deals to try and keep the pitcher a part of the plan for the future.
Both sides know that a trade is something that is inevitable if the meeting of the minds on a contract doesn’t get done by opening day.
Bruce Levine is a baseball reporter/analyst for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.