By Chris Emma-
CHICAGO (CBS) — For the first time since taking residency on Chicago’s North Side, Cubs skipper Rick Renteria was visibly frustrated about a loss.
The Cubs’ play in Friday’s loss to Cincinnati was “sloppy” as the rookie manager explained to his team in an extended clubhouse meeting. The players’ approaches were inconsistent and their overall play was poor. See for example the team’s two costly errors, eight strikeouts or 17 runners left on base.
Approach is the key for the Cubs to see success in a season offering little hope. The optimistic Renteria has seen little to smile about.
“It’s just a matter of focus,” Renteria ranted after the Cubs’ 4-1 loss to Cincinnati on Friday. “They know, our players know. It’s a long season, but the reality is, good clubs really do grind out every single game. That’s what we want to be doing.”
Should the Cubs’ young roster want an example success, it won’t have to look far. Their 29-year-old ace who toed the rubber during the latest loss is a shining example of a consistent, professional approach. Jeff Samardzija can teach his teammates a thing or two.
The future of Samardzija in Chicago remains uncertain. The Cubs’ front office brass is shopping the right-hander, looking to stock up the farm system for better days ahead. Yet, the present for Samardzija is very important, too.
Samardzija’s workmanlike mindset he brings to the ballpark each day is reason for his success. He is able to zone in on each inning, batter and pitch. It’s rare that a game gets away from him, largely in part to his approach.
“It’s a teaching tool,” Renteria said. “The reality is, it take a tremendous amount of heart and tremendous amount of focus and compete the way he did.”
For Samardzija, it’s not quite that complicated.
“You just keep going out and doing your work,” he said. “That’s all you can do.”
This young Cub clubhouse desperately needs a figure like Samardzija in place. He’s the longest-tenured Cub—even at just 29 years old—and the example for a growing team to follow.
Samardzija isn’t getting any younger, and he isn’t that dominating ace the Cubs’ previous regime had hoped. What the Cubs do have is talented, consistent workhorse. He stays with the scouting report, doesn’t change the approach and puts his team in position to win.
The decision will be difficult for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Returns for Samardzija must be strong in order for the Cubs to part ways with a talented arm. Samardzija can be part of the club’s future, a top-of-the-rotation pitcher when the young core works its way up from the minors. Do they really want to get rid of that?
This year’s Cubs team is pushing through a terrible start to the season, one which offers little hope. Samardzija is the team’s most consistent piece, a potential cornerstone for the rotation. His example and approach remain strong amidst early struggles.
“When it’s not going so great for you as a team, you need to come together and understand one guy has a down day, somebody else needs to pick him up,” Samardzija said. “That’s where we’re at right now. We need to be patient. Starters need to keep showing up and doing their job and when it blows open, you get ready to go.”
Toward the end of Renteria’s press conference, he offered another side of himself that hadn’t been revealed.
“Every single year, we want to be in position to be in the playoffs,” Renteria said. “I know, for many, it’s a stretch that I’m even speaking like that. But we’ve got to start some place. I’m not going to stop.”
Neither will Samardzija, the Cubs’ consistent worker. If only his teammates would follow that lead.