Jeff Samardzija heats up Cubs rotation competition

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It looked like six pitchers for five spots initially, but with Jeff Samardzija having made a strong early impression on new manager Dale Sveum, there are currently seven pitchers in the mix for the Cubs rotation.

The givens are Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster, though Garza’s name has been a very popular one in trade rumors. After those two were expected to be Paul Maholm and Randy Wells, leaving newcomers Chris Volstad and Travis Wood competing for one spot. Samardzija’s emergence, though, has broadened the competition and perhaps left Wells vulernable to being replaced.

Volstad, for what it’s worth, has answered the bell early on. He pitched three scoreless innings in a win against the Giants on Tuesday, bringing his spring total to six scoreless frames. Samardzija has allowed two runs in his six innings and boasts a nice 6/0 K/BB ratio. Wells has pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, while Wood has allowed one run in 2 1/3 innings.

Since Wood, who came over in the Sean Marshall deal, has options left, he seems the most likely candidate to be bumped now. Samardzija then could take the spot of either Volstad or Wells if he’s promoted from the bullpen. Wells has seen his ERA jump from 3.05 in 2009 to 4.26 in 2010 and 4.99 last season, so there’s no reason he should be promised anything.

Rakuten Golden Eagles sign Jabari Blash

Jabari Blash
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Former Angels outfielder Jabari Blash has signed a one-year deal with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball, the team announced Friday. Per the Japan Times, the deal is said to be worth around $1.06 million. Blash was released from his contract with the Angels at the end of November.

The 29-year-old outfielder has had a rough go of it in the majors, where he failed to duplicate the promising results he delivered in the minors. While he consistently batted above .250 with 20-30 home runs per season at the Double- and Triple-A level, he petered out in back-to-back gigs with the Padres and Angels and slumped toward a .103/.200/.128 finish across 45 PA for Anaheim in 2018.

The hope, of course, is that the environment in NPB will help him get a better handle on his issues at the plate — in a best case scenario, resulting in a full-scale transformation that could make him more marketable to MLB teams in the future. To that end, Blash expects to be utilized as a cleanup batter in the Eagles’ lineup and will focus on assisting the club as they make a run toward the Japan Series.