The next couple of starts for the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija could be important benchmarks for his development as a pitcher the Cubs plan to build a rotation around.
And not just because they come against potentially tough lineups with the Boston Red Sox Friday and the White Sox five days later.
After command problems in his last two starts, including his worst start of the year Saturday in Minnesota, Samardzija was putting extra work in with pitching coach Chris Bosio Sunday morning and figures to put in some more overtime before Friday's home start.
``I don't think it's just [Saturday]. I think it's starting to be a little breakdown in mechanics again,'' manager Dale Sveum said, ``and trying to bully his way through a lineup sometimes and not being able to concentrate. And that's all coming with the whole thing; I think everybody's trying to do too much, whether it's Samardzija on the mound or whoever on the mound.''
Saturday against the Twins, Samardzija only walked one batter, but he had only real good control of his fastball, and it got hit. Without good command of his splitter, he gave up nine hits and a career-high eight runs, lasting just 3 2/3 innings.
In his previous start, at San Francisco, he gutted out five innings in a one-run loss but walked five and needed 110 pitches to get as deep as he did in the game.
``It's just getting the ball down,'' Sveum said. ``Pitching in spring training and early in the season, he was down in the strike zone. His head wasn't flying off to the first base side, all of that. Now he's losing a little bit of concentration, I think, and the ball's going to get up. And you're definitely not going to have command arm-side down to the left-handed hitter, so you saw [Saturday] he pull-jerked about three pitches that [catcher Steve] Clevenger couldn't even catch. He was flying wide open with nothing on the baseball.''
For a pitcher who has always had the powerful look and fastball to suggest big things as a starter, the command of secondary pitches has been the biggest thing keeping him from breaking out as a starting pitcher before now.
He still has the team lead in wins (five) and has a better ERA (3.96) than Matt Garza (3.99). And he has had four or five of the club's best starts this season.
But where he goes from here, especially in the next few starts, will be worth watching for where the Cubs are headed as they made longer-term decisions over the next several months.