Jeff Samardzija came to the Chicago Cubs on a major league contract when he was drafted a few years ago. That means that he came with big expectations.
And although he’s performed well in his way up the minor league chain, and was great in a brief stop with the Cubs in relief at the end of 2008, he was very disappointing last year in his first chance to really claim a full-time gig at the big league level. In his mind, that was at least partly because he never felt certain about where he was going to be – in the majors or the minors, in the rotation or in the pen. Hopefully this year, wherever he ends up, is where he ends up.
The right-hander had three stints with the big league team, April 23-May 6, June 30-Aug. 13 and Sept. 8 through the end of the season. He was looking for a chance to settle in one place. Shuttling back and forth didn’t help last season.
“That’s probably No. 1 on the list,” he said. “Just knowing in my head I wasn’t going anywhere and I had a solid month or however many starts to make the adjustments I wanted to make and go from there.”…
In 2008, Samardzija was used strictly in relief with the Cubs and posted a 2.28 ERA in 26 games. Last season, he made his first Major League start Aug. 12 against the Phillies — one of two starts in 2009 — and served up seven runs on eight hits over 3 1/3 innings. Not exactly an outing worth celebrating, but Samardzija said now it was all positive.
“I’m pretty good at ‘in the moment’ and being kind of stubborn with myself and being set in my ways and what I want to work on,” Samardzija said. “I took a lot out of last year. Was it tough and how I wrote it up? It wasn’t how I wrote it up, and it was tough. But I learned a lot and learned how it works growing up in this league and just playing baseball in general.
“I’m happy with where I’m at now with where I’m pitching and how the ball’s coming out. I really haven’t put the ball down this offseason, which feels great. It’s the first time I’ve done that. I’m ready to go.”
He’s still young baseball-wise and knows it. Samardzija made a name for himself on the football field, catching passes as a stellar wide receiver at Notre Dame. The Cubs selected him in the fifth round of the 2006 Draft, and he has committed full-time to baseball.
Now, it’s a matter of finding the right role. He succeeded as a reliever in ’08 but wants to start.
“The future — you never know,” Samardzija said. “I want to give starting a fair enough shot. I feel with my body and with my arm I can be a successful starting pitcher who goes deep into games every fifth day. I feel that can happen.
“Being a young guy, there’s still stuff I need to work on, and coming from a football background, maybe there’s even more to work on. I want to give [starting] its fair shot. I’ve done it my whole life.
“I wouldn’t qualify last year as giving it a full shot to be a starter. I thought at the end of the season it went pretty well, but it was only two starts, and you can’t take too much from that. I want to do it. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
There is an opening in the Cubs rotation. Ted Lilly could miss the first month, maybe less, after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder in early November. There are three starters set in Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Randy Wells, and lots of candidates for the vacancies, including newly acquired Carlos Silva.
Samardzija, Gorzelanny and Sean Marshall are all friends. But they’re all competing for the same thing.
“As a young guy, that’s how you look at it first is that they’re buddies,” Samardzija said. “Obviously, they’re good friends and they’re on your team and you want to win with them. The older you get, the more you understand what this game is about. In the end it’ll make you stronger.” cubs.com.
Given that Samardzija, more so than Gorzelanny, Silva and even Marshall, is thought of by the Cubs in their long-term plans, you have to believe he’ll be given every opportunity to claim that fifth starter spot. Many believe, however, that his future is in the bullpen. He’s always looked like a guy who can be dominant in bursts where he can let it all hang out, but struggled a bit when he had to hold something back in order to pitch 6, 7 innings.