Why is Jeff Samardzija in the majors?

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This isn’t a piece designed to answer that question. It’s an actual inquiry. What on earth is Jeff Samardzija doing in the Cubs bullpen?

Going into the spring, it seemed to be pretty much a given that Samardzija would have a roster spot because he was out of options and because the Cubs had so much invested in him, the result of a $10 million contract designed to prevent the former Notre Dame receiver from returning to football.

But the fact that the Cubs do have so much invested in Samardzija meant there wasn’t any real risk of losing him. Samardzija would have been exposed to waivers if the Cubs had send him down, but with a salary of about $2 million this year, there was no chance any team was going to claim him on waivers. It would have been terrific for the Cubs if some team had.

Because make no mistake, Samardzija isn’t a major league pitcher. He did manage to retire three of the five hitters he faced today, but the other two walked and came around to score off Marcus Mateo, leaving Samardzija with a 9.00 ERA through two innings for the season.

While Samardzija got off to a nice start in 26 relief appearances in 2008, his major league ERA now stands at 6.02 in 83 2/3 innings. He’s struck out 57 and walked 54 during that span.  Since the beginning of last year, he’s allowed 20 runs and posted an 11/24 K/BB ratio in 21 1/3 innings.

So why are the Cubs carrying him? It’s not like they bypassed any great alternatives, but they could have tried Todd Wellemeyer or Robert Coello. I agree about keeping Casey Coleman in the rotation at Triple-A Iowa, but using fellow prospect Chris Carpenter as a reliever would have made sense.

Anyway, I give it a month. Samardzija won’t last season the season with the Cubs, and my guess is that he’s designated for assignment within 30 days.  The Cubs may not be too much better for it, but every little bit will help.

Reds having Michael Lorenzen prepare as a two-way player

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For decades, a legitimate “two-way player” — a player who functions as both a pitcher and as a position player — was nothing but a fantasy. The skill sets required for both are too distinct and require too much prep work, it was thought. The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani shattered that illusion in 2018, posting a .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a hitter while posting a 3.31 ERA in 51 2/3 innings as a pitcher.

Since then, several more players have been considered in two-way roles. The Rangers signed Matt Davidson earlier this month and could potentially use him as a corner infielder as well as a reliever. Also earlier this month, James Loney signed with the independent Atlantic League’s Sugar Land Skeeters, who plan to use him as both a first baseman and as a pitcher.

You can add Michael Lorenzen of the Reds to that list. MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports that the Reds will have Lorenzen prepare this spring as a two-way player. He could both start and relieve while occasionally playing in the outfield. Lorenzen, in fact, took batting practice with the outfielders on Thursday. Previously, he had taken batting practice as extra work following a workout with fellow pitchers.

Lorenzen said, “It’s fantastic, the effort they’re putting in. A lot of the excuses were, ‘You know, we don’t want to overwork him.’ Well, let’s just sit down and talk about it then. They were willing to sit down and talk about it, which is one of the reasons why I love this staff so much and why I think the front office did a great job [hiring] this staff. They’re willing to find solutions for problems.”

New manager David Bell said, “We’ve put together a plan for the whole spring, knowing we can adjust it at any time. We didn’t want to go into each day not knowing what he’s going to do. We all felt better, he did, too. He was part of putting it together.”

Lorenzen, 27, pitched 81 innings last year with a 3.11 ERA and a 54/34 K/BB ratio. He’s one of baseball’s best-hitting pitchers as well. Last year, he swatted four homers and knocked in 10 runs in 34 trips to the plate. The last pitcher to hit at least four homers in a season was the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner, who did it in both 2014 (four) and 2015 (five). Lorenzen also posted a 1.043 OPS. According to Baseball Reference, there have been only 11 pitchers to OPS over 1.000 (min. 30 PA). The only ones to do it in the 2000’s are Lorenzen last year, Micah Owings in 2007 (1.033) and Dontrelle Willis in 2011 (1.032).