3/7 Samardzija impressive in outing
All spring, Dale Sveum has said Jeff Samardzija is a pitcher on a mission. On Wednesday, Samardzija looked like it. The right-hander, who appeared in 75 games last season, all in relief, struck out three and gave up a bloop single over three innings against the Royals in his first Cactus League outing. Samardzija faced the minimum as the only batter who reached, Chris Getz, was thrown out trying to steal second in the first. Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Paul Maholm are set in the Cubs rotation. Samardzija could have settled for the bullpen. Is he on a mission to secure a spot in the rotation?
“That’s 100 percent correct,” Samardzija said. “I hold a lot of stuff inside, I don’t say too much stuff. I have a big chip on my shoulder, especially the older I get and I slowly see my football skills diminishing. I’ve got to understand I need to start pitching good. It means something to me. I want to come out here and pitch good. I’m close to home, I’ve been here for five, six years and it does mean something to me.”
It’s not just a matter of trying to move on from his days as an All-America wide receiver at Notre Dame.
“Most importantly, I want to win,” Samardzija said. “If I feel I can do something to help us get that done and get a few more wins, I’ll do what it takes. It’s not just me, I think there are a lot of guys here on a mission.”
He showed how much he’s changed against the last batter he faced, Kansas City’s Alcides Escobar, whom he struck out on three pitches.
“He swung at that high fastball, 0-1, so let’s see if he swings at it again,” said Samardzija, who fanned Escobar on back to back fastballs clocked at 93 and 94 mph. “That’s the biggest key to see that you’re growing as a pitcher is when you can read what the hitters are doing and go from there.”
It’s just taken some time for the right-hander, a fifth-round selection in the 2006 Draft. He’s appeared in 128 Major League games, five as a starter.
“Lou [Piniella] and all those guys who were here, and Jim [Hendry, former GM], you have to win to keep your job,” Samardzija said. “In ’08 and ’09, we were trying to win and if they thought that me being in the bullpen in the big leagues was the best way to win, then that was the way to go. People tend to forget, we’re just pawns here. We’re just the guys on the chessboard. Everyone else is making the moves. You have to take it for what it’s worth. I got to come up and pitch as a young guy, maybe not ready to do it, against a lot of great hitters. It gives me a lot of confidence now to know that I have my mechanics in line and have the pitches I want to throw and am still facing those guys.”
— Carrie Muskat