Samardzija Surprises in Spring Debut – Cubs 6, Royals 4

Spring Game Four – Cubs 6, Royals 4
WP – Jeff Samardzija (1-0) LP – Jonathan Sanchez (0-1) Save – None

wflag.jpgJeff Samardzija has been saying for several weeks that he wants to be a big league starting pitcher. Samardzija told everyone that was his goal and he has been working all off-season preparing to win a spot in the Cubs rotation. While it was only one start in the first week of exhibition games, Jeff Samardzija took a step in the right direction Wednesday to reaching his goal.

Samardzija looked like a different pitcher on the mound. He appeared confident and ready to prove he belongs in the Cubs rotation. Samardzija’s typically shaky command was absent Wednesday and he did not walk a single batter in his three innings of work … the longest outing by a Cubs’ pitcher in the first four games.

Samardzija faced the minimum over three shutout innings and allowed only one hit … and he helped erase his only mistake with a well-timed side step that gave Steve Clevenger a chance to throw out Chris Getz. Samardzija struck out three and consistently hit the mid-90s with his fastball (94-96 MPH) and his changeup ranged from the high-80s to low-90s (87-91 MPH)

Jeff Samardzija threw 36 pitches, 28 for strikes, Wednesday afternoon in Surprise.

The Cubs’ offense did just enough against the Royals and scored four of their six runs in the first inning. The Cubs hit the ball where it was pitched against Jonathan Sanchez and were aggressive on the bases but it was three miscues by the Royals that helped the Cubs put a four-spot on the board in the opening frame.

Reed Johnson (2-for-3 with a run scored), Starlin Castro (2-for-3 with a run scored and a stolen base), Bryan LaHair (2-for-3 with a RBI, a run scored and a stolen base), Darwin Barney (1-for-3 with a double and a RBI) and Brett Jackson (1-for-1 with a RBI) led a Cubs’ offense that pounded out 15 hits.

After Dave Sappelt flied out to center to start the game, Reed Johnson lined a 2-1 pitch back up the box that almost took Jonathan Sanchez’s head off. Starlin Castro followed with a smash to third that ate up Mike Moustakas. Reed Johnson did not pause around second and ended up at third with one out.

With runners on first and third, Bryan LaHair worked the count to 3-2. Castro broke for second. Sanchez did not pitch to his defense and LaHair reached out and poked an outside fastball toward the vacated spot at short (Escobar went to cover second). Escobar retreated and got a glove on the ball but Johnson scored the game’s first run.

Jae-Hoon Ha stepped in with runners on first and second with one out and quickly fell behind 0-2. Ha then poked an outside pitch to the hole at short, the Royals were playing Ha to pull. Castro scored easily on the play and LaHair tried to advance to third.

Jeff Francoeur’s throw got away from Moustakas then Moustakas’ throw to the plate hit Bryan LaHair. LaHair scored and Ha ended up at third with one out … 3-0 Cubs.

Darwin Barney drove in Ha with a double to right that sailed over Francoeur’s head … 4-0 Cubs. Matt Tolbert advanced Barney to third with a ground out to second but Steve Clevenger struck out swinging to end the inning.

Jonathan Sanchez did not return in the second.

Jeff Samardzija retired Jarrod Dyson (2-2 pitch) on a lineout to Starlin Castro to begin his afternoon. Chris Getz followed with a bloop single to right (2-2 pitch). On a 1-1 pitch to Eric Hosmer, Getz broke from second and was gunned down by Steve Clevenger. The Cubs’ catcher delivered a perfect throw and an excellent side step gave Clevenger the time. Hosmer grounded out to first to end the inning.

Samardzija threw 15 pitches in the first, 11 for strikes.

Everett Teaford took over for Sanchez in the second.

Teaford retired Joe Mather (ground out to third) and Sappelt (liner to first on a 2-2 pitch) to start the inning. Reed Johnson reached on a broken bat single to left (2-1 pitch). Starlin Castro then reached on an infield single. Castro hit the first pitch back up the middle. Escobar tried to barehand the slow chopper but could not get a handle on the ball. Bryan LaHair fouled out to third (3-2 pitch) to end the inning.

Samardzija struck out Billy Butler swinging (1-2 pitch), retired Moustakas on a flyout to center (0-1 pitch) and Jeff Francoeur grounded out to third (0-1 pitch) in the second. Samardzija sat down the Royals in order on just nine pitches, seven for strikes.

The Cubs went down in order in the top of the third.

Samardzija started the third, the first Cubs’ pitcher to throw three innings in the first four games, and finished his day with an exclamation point. Samardzija struck out two of the last three batters he faced (both looking) and threw only 12 pitches, 10 for strikes.

Steve Clevenger singled to center to start the fourth. Joe Mather hit a 0-2 pitch to third. Clevenger was forced at second and hit the bag awkwardly. Clevenger came up limping but stayed in the game. Sappelt and Johnson struck out swinging to end the inning.

Jay Jackson made his first appearance of the spring. Jackson took over for Samardzija in the fourth and retired Dyson on a bunt back to the mound. Jackson threw the ball well Wednesday and should have retired Getz for the second out. Castro fielded the routine grounder but his throw sailed and LaHair could not haul the ball in on the bag. Jackson uncorked a wild pitch with Hosmer at the plate that allowed Getz to advance to second. Hosmer then ripped a 2-2 pitch into left center. Hosmer’s double plated Getz … 4-1 Cubs.

With Billy Butler at the plate, Steve Clevenger’s rough day continued. Clevenger dropped a pitch that allowed Hosmer to advance to third. Jackson struck out Butler swinging and retired Moustakas on a pop out to Barney in shallow right (1-2 pitch) to end the inning.

Starlin Castro led off the fifth with a grounder to the hole at short. Escobar’s throw to first was low, Castro beat it but hit the top of the bag and slipped (the coaching staff must teach him how to run the bases). Castro limped around for a bit but stayed in the game.

Castro stole second with LaHair at the plate. LaHair then hit a 1-1 pitch to the hole. Escobar fielded and threw towards first. Escobar’s throw was off. Hosmer stepped away and threw to third as Castro broke … Castro was out by a mile. LaHair reached first then stole second when Adcock forgot about him. Ha hit a slow grounder to short, LaHair advanced to third and was stranded when Barney hit the first pitch to Moustakas.

Jay Jackson completed his second inning of work without allowing any runs (11 pitches, six for strikes). Jackson was not as sharp and if not for a botched hit and run by Francoeur he would have faced more than the minimum. Jackson hit Francoeur to start the inning (1-2 pitch) but Perez hit a medium depth fly to center (1-2 pitch). Campana caught the ball as Francoeur rounded second. Campana threw to first to complete the double play. Laugh popped out to left center to end the inning.

The Cubs tacked on a run in the sixth after Matt Tolbert singled to center to start the inning. Tolbert stole second but Clevenger struck out. Joe Mather followed with a grounder up the middle. Yuniesky Betancourt (playing second base) got to the ball. Mather beat the throw and the Cubs had runners on first and third with one out.

Tony Campana dropped down a sac bunt toward first. Tolbert scored, 5-1 Cubs. Matt Szczur grounded out to second to end the inning.

Dale Sveum emptied his bench in the bottom of the sixth. Rafael Dolis took over for Jay Jackson and Blake DeWitt (3B), Bobby Scales (2B), Alfredo Amezaga (SS), Brett Jackson (RF), Josh Vitters (1B), Matt Szczur (LF) and Blake Lalli (C) took over for the starters.

Rafael Dolis struggled with his command Wednesday but was still effective and when he missed, he missed down in the zone. Dolis threw 11 pitches in the sixth, four for strikes and induced three groundball outs. Dolis issued a four-pitch walk to Robinson with one out … and that was all.

Josh Vitters walked on four pitches with one out in the seventh. Adrian Cardenas advanced him to second with a ground out to second (hit and run). Vitters then broke for third before the pitcher released the ball … Vitters was thrown out by a mile at third to end the inning.

Rafael Dolis pitched the bottom off the seventh with similar results as the sixth inning. Dolis was effective and did not allow any runs. Dolis broke two bats but hit a batter (Max Ramirez) and gave up a double to Mitch Meier. Dolis threw 20 pitches in the seventh, nine for strikes.

The Cubs tacked on a run in the eighth after a one-out single by Blake DeWitt. Blake Lalli fouled out to third before Brett Jackson stepped in. A balk advanced DeWitt to second and Jackson drove him in with a hard single to center … 6-1 Cubs. Campana struck out swinging to end the inning.

The Royals started chipping away at the Cubs five-run lead in the eighth.

Trey McNutt made his first appearance in the Cactus League and pitched better than his box score. Like Dolis, McNutt broke two bats but fell behind Betancourt and it cost him a run.

McNutt gave up a one-out single to Robinson before Betancourt ripped a 3-1 pitch down the third base line. Robinson scored on the double. McNutt struck out the next batter looking on a very nice curveball and got out of the inning with a flyout to left. McNutt threw 23 pitches in the eighth, 13 for strikes.

The Cubs had a chance to add to their 6-2 lead in the top of the ninth after Szczur reached on an infield single and Amezaga delivered a single to left center on a hit and run. Josh Vitters struck out swinging (3-2 pitch) with runners on first and third and Adrian Cardenas grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

With the Cubs looking to trim their roster down by the weekend, Jeff Beliveau did not help himself out Wednesday. Beliveau labored through a 23-pitch ninth, allowed two runs and forced Dale Sveum to get Marcos Mateo up in the pen. The Cubs comfortable four-run lead quickly evaporated.

Kevin Kouzmanoff (single to right) and Mitch Maier (single to right on 2-2 pitch) hit bullets into the outfield off Beliveau to start the inning. A wild pitch put runners on second and third with no outs. Max Ramirez singled to center. Kouzmanoff and Maier scored, 6-4 Cubs.

After a visit from Chris Bosio, Beliveau focused and retired Golson on a lineout to short. Falu reached on a bunt after Bobby Scales failed to cover first. Will Myers pinch hit and hit a deep fly to center that advanced Ramirez to third. With runners on first and third with one out and the Cubs up by two, Beliveau struck out Yuniesky Betancourt swinging to end the game.

Box Score from Yahoo Sports

The Cubs return to Mesa to host the Mariners on Thursday. Chris Volstad will make his Cubs debut against veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood.

Observations from the Park

  • Opposing pitchers paid a lot of attention to Cubs’ baserunners over the first four Cactus League games.
  • Brett Jackson played right field Wednesday … in the first four games, Jackson has played in left, right and center.
  • Rick Sutcliffe stood behind homeplate in the tunnel during Trey McNutt’s entire outing Wednesday.
  • The Cubs have been extremely aggressive on the bases so far this spring. There has seemingly been more runners go from first to third on singles in four games than the entire 2011 season.

Video from Cubs vs. Royals – March 7

Jeff Samardzija

Jay Jackson

Jay Jackson

Brett Jackson

Trey McNutt

Jeff Beliveau

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