Focus Remains on Samardzija and Other Cubs News and Notes

The Jeff Samardzija rumors were fueled over the weekend by the comments Matt Garza made about his former teammate. Garza said Samardzija needs to focus on pitching his way out of Chicago and Samardzija is pitching like a top of the rotation starter, one that could fetch a nice return from a contender at some point in the near future.

The Cubs and Jeff Samardzija are no longer talking about a contract extension after not finding a middle ground during the off-season. The Cubs see better days down the road for Samardzija but right now view him as a middle of the rotation starter and feel that is how he should be compensated. But Samardzija views himself as a top of the rotation starter. Plus, Samardzija has decided it is important for him to protect future generations of baseball players and not sign “any of these crummy early deals for seven or eight years.”

Jeff Samardzija recently told Comcast SportsNet, “I definitely have a responsibility to the players that are younger than me and approaching arbitration or approaching free agency to keep the numbers where they should be. And rising as they should be, in accordance to the economy and state of the game.”

If weather permits it, Samardzija will make his sixth start on Monday night in Cincinnati. Samardzija has completed at least seven innings in each of his first five outings. Samardzija has allowed eight runs, six earned, on 30 hits with nine walks and 27 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings (1.53 ERA, 1.10 WHIP)

The scout section at Great American Ball Park figures to be at capacity. Will a team like the Blue Jays step up and give the Cubs what they are asking for in return for Jeff Samardzija? That’s the question that should be answered soon.

Jake Arrieta

Jake Arrieta will catch up with the team on Monday in Cincinnati. Arrieta is ready to be activated from the disabled list and join the Cubs’ rotation. Arrieta will not start a game in Cincinnati but should be activated during the Cubs five-game homestand that begins Friday with the first of three against the Cardinals.

The spot in the rotation currently occupied by Carlos Villanueva comes up again on Wednesday. And if Arrieta was to start the finale in Cincinnati, he would be pitching on short rest. Arrieta could start the opener of the Cardinals series or wait until the fifth spot comes back around on Monday for the opener with the White Sox.

Rick Renteria would not commit to a certain day for Arrieta and said, “We’ll see where he’s at once we put our eyes on him.”

Hector Rondon and the Bullpen

Rick Renteria and Jed Hoyer addressed the closer situation in great detail at the end of last week. Renteria said the closer situation is ‘organic’ right now and Jed Hoyer agreed with his assessment during his weekly spot on 87.7 The Game on Friday.

Hoyer said the Cubs are in a position in which there is no reason to hand out the job. The closer’s job will be defined once someone earns the job. Hoyer likes the power arms in the pen with the additions of Zac Rosscup and Neil Ramirez. Hoyer would like to see better results from the bullpen and pointed out that it is important that the team locks down the games they are in position to win.

It is really hard for a team to play good for eight innings and take a lead into the ninth just to end up losing the game. Hoyer pointed out the team has had closer issues for the last three Aprils and the bullpen is one of the areas they are trying to improve.

Renteria explained what he meant by ‘organic’ when asked about who would be closing games for the Cubs. Renteria told Patrick Mooney, “Whatever the situation might dictate, or what we feel like we need to do, we’ll try to do it. Pitchers want to feel comfortable in particular roles and so on. Right now, it’s, again, organic.”

Renteria said he would mix and match with his relievers until the roles defined themselves. But it appears, Hector Rondon is being thought of as the Cubs’ ninth inning guy … shh, do not use the ‘C’ word.

When the Cubs cut the Brewers lead to 5-3 on Saturday night, Rick Renteria used Pedro Stop in the eighth inning to keep Milwaukee from adding to their lead. On Sunday, Renteria used Strop again in the eighth inning and Hector Rondon was used in a ‘non-save situation’ in the ninth inning.

Hector Rondon has appeared in 11 of the Cubs’ 24 games and allowed two runs, one earned, on eight hits in 12 1/3 innings with four walks and 14 strikeouts (0.73 ERA, 0.97 WHIP). Rondon made a lot of improvement last season working with Chris Bosio and was 1-1 in 20 appearances in the second half with a 3.20 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. In nine games in September (nine innings), Rondon surrendered one hit and two walks with eight strikeouts (0.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP).

As for other options to close games, do not look for James Russell to be given a shot at the job. Rick Renteria is aware of how much he was used the last two seasons.

Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez could end up as starters down the road. The Cubs want to make sure not to overuse either of the young right handers. According to a report from Comcast SportsNet, the Cubs view Grimm as a potential starter. Ramirez was told the Cubs would like to use him as a reliever for now in order to build up arm strength. Ramirez does not think his days as a starter are over based on conversations he’s had with the Cubs’ brass.

So while the Cubs try to define roles, it appears Hector Rondon will get a chance to grab the job.

Kevin Gregg

And speaking of the bullpen, Gordon Wittenmyer spoke with Kevin Gregg and the former two-time Cubs’ closer is ready to pitch and “just waiting for an opportunity.” Gregg did not sign with a team in the off-season after he saved 33 games for the Cubs and posted a 2-6 record with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 62 games. Gregg allowed 14 runs, 13 earned, on 27 hits with 19 walks and 21 strikeouts over his last 28 2/3 innings (4.08 ERA, 1.61 WHIP).

Gregg told the Sun-Times he still keeps up with the Cubs and knows the situation the bullpen is in right now.

Kevin Gregg was looking for a big league contract in the off-season and is “not sure why he hasn’t gotten the guaranteed big league offer he sought.” Gregg is willing to sign an incentive-laden deal as a setup man but did not sign with any of the teams that contacted him in the off-season that were willing to take a “no-risk flier on him.” The Cubs have not contacted Gregg. He is staying in shape “by working out and pitching to college hitters near his home in Oregon.”

Kevin Gregg told Wittenmyer if the Cubs are interested, Theo Epstein has his number.

News and Notes

According to Jesse Rogers, Luis Valbuena deserves playing time. When asked, Valbuena told ESPN Chicago that his bosses are happy with what he’s doing right now at the plate and in the field.

According to a report from Patrick Mooney, the Cubs plan on carrying a 13-man pitching staff (five starters, eight relievers) for at least the next 10 days. Renteria will have a four-man bench but with the Cubs in the middle of a stretch of 30 games in 31 days, the Cubs’ brass feels 13 pitchers on the 25-man roster works better for the team right now than having an extra position player.

Patrick Mooney asked the question, could Jason Hammel become a building block for the Cubs? And on a side note, do not be surprised if John Baker continues to catch Jason Hammel. Baker and Hammel are working extremely well together and that would build in an automatic day off for Welington Castillo.

And last, but not least, International Hotels Group posted a cool graphic on why Chicago is the best sports city in the U.S. and asked us to make sure our readers knew it.

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Quote of the Day

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