Shark Attacks the Tribe with Goose Eggs at HoHoKam Park
In what was one of the better performances by a Cubs starting pitcher at HoHoKam Park in quite some time, Jeff Samardzija showed Top-of-the-Rotation stuff while throwing six innings of shutout ball (67 pitches - 43 strikes), allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out five. Three relievers followed with three more shutout innings, as the Cubs blanked the Cleveland Indians 2-0 in Cactus League action this afternoon in Mesa, AZ.
Facing a mostly MLB-lineup, Samardzija absolutely breezed through his six innings of work, and after being relieved he went out to the bullpen and threw another 15 pitches, apparently so that he could reach his target of 80+ pitches.
If there was any doubt that Samardzija has the quality and variety of stuff and the stamina to be an MLB starting pitcher, today's outing should go a long way toward allaying those concerns. For example, he got three pop ups in a 1-2-3 4th, struck out the side with gas in a 1-2-3 5th, and got four grounders (one of which was a single) in the 6th (his last inning).
In addition to his pitching exploits, The Shark also ripped a lead-off triple into the LF alley in the bottom of the 5th, long-striding his way around the bases--like running a post-pattern at Notre Dame--before pulling into 3rd base standing up. Unfortunately the next three hitters went down on a feeble ground out and two weak pop ups to leave the Shark stranded at 3rd, but it was impressive none-the-less.
The Cub offense was equally weak against Tribe starter Josh Tomlin as the Cleveland hitters were against Samardzija, before breaking through against the obviously-tiring RHP in the bottom of the 6th.
Alfonso Soriano laced a top-spin liner to left to open the frame, and (with the Indians 1st baseman holding Soriano at 1st) Ian Stewart ripped a single through the wide-open 3.5 hole into RF with one out. Bryan LaHair and Joe Mather followed with RBI singles to plate two runs, giving the Cubs all the runs they needed.
Carlos Marmol worked the 7th, allowing a walk that was quickly erased on an inning-ending strike 'em out/throw 'em out (thanks to an on-the-dime throw to 2nd base by Steve Clevenger that nabbed Ryan Spliborghs).
James Russell allowed two hits in the 8th (a Felix Pie single and a two-out Asdrubal Cabera double), but struck out dangerous Shin-Soo Choo (swinging) on a nasty 3-2 breaking ball in the dirt to get out of the inning.
"On the bubble" for one of the last remaining slots in the Cub bullpen, Rafael Dolis worked a hitless 9th to get the save, but he did struggle with his command, walking two before getting a bat-breaking game-ending 6-3 ground out.
The defensive plays of the game were two nearly-identical over-the-shoulder catches by Starlin Castro in LF foul territory that brought back memories of Shawon Dunston. No shortstop was better than Dunston at catching pop-ups in the outfield, but Castro showed he can make those kinds of plays, too.
Castro also made another nice play on a grounder headed for CF, fielding the ball and getting off an off-balance throw to 1st baseman Bryan LaHair. The runner was called out (although it appeared that LaHair was not on the bag), but whether called safe or out, it was a very fine play indeed.
3rd baseman Ian Stewart also made a nice play on an infield chopper with a runner at 1st base and one out in the top of th 2nd, charging the ball and then rotating his body in the air to throw out the runner at 2nd base. I think Aramis Ramirez might have made the play and maybe gotten an out at 1st base, but no way A-Ram would have thrown out the lead runner at 2nd base. That took the kind of defensive skills and confidence that Stewart has that Ramirez lacks in the field.