CHICAGO -- While watching Carlos Gonzalez lead off the third inning with a home run – after Chris Nelson had just done the same to start the second – it was doubtful that anyone expected Jeff Samardzija to say this was the most proud he’s been of himself after a start all season. But that’s exactly what happened on Friday afternoon following the Cubs’ 5-3 comeback victory over the Colorado Rockies.
“To come out early and scuffle, not really have fastball command or a slider all game, to get through seven innings felt really good,” Samardzija said. “I’m really happy (with my progress). It’s a lot like last year, with where I was at the beginning of camp and how we made some adjustments, corrected some things and finished really strong.”
With 60 pitches through the first three innings and facing a 3-0 deficit, it looked like Samardzija and the Cubs were heading for a long day. But after Gonzalez’s home run, Samardzija quickly settled down, making it through seven innings, giving up only two singles the rest of the way and tossing a measly 39 pitches in his final four frames.
Manager Dale Sveum didn’t hesitate when asked what he wanted to see from Samardzija the rest of the way this season.
“Games like today, really,” Sveum said. “I don’t think he got flustered with anything early, he’s grown a lot, especially in the last (few) starts. I think you’ve started to see a guy who’s learning what to do in certain situations, how to get quick outs, get deeper into games and understand how to pitch when you don’t have your split. He’s come a long way.”
With Matt Garza’s injury shelving him for the season and the departures of Paul Maholm and Ryan Dempster at the trade deadline, Samardzija has become the de facto No. 1 starter for the Cubs. However, while this role has come unexpectedly for the young righty, it’s a role that Sveum believes Samardzija can fulfill, in the present and future.
“He’s got durability, he’s got the power, he’s got the split (to be a No. 1 starter),” Sveum said. “Now it’s just more of a learning process. His mentality is he wants to be a number one and he has the stuff to be able to do it.”
Samardzija admitted that becoming a No. 1 starter, not just in name but in performance as well, is something that’s been in the back of his mind since he joined the Cubs.
“When you go out and do things like (today), when you can have a successful day when you don’t have everything, that means a lot,” Samardzija said. “It gives you that extra confidence when you do have your stuff to pitch deep into games and pitch a lot of innings. Ultimately, that’s what you have to do as a starter, pitch into the seventh, eighth, ninth inning every time out.”
Samardzija’s path to this point has been a long one -- from presumed failed prospect to competent reliever to now, finally showing signs that he has the potential to be a legit workhorse near the top of a rotation. The Cubs’ youth movement is teeming with position players, but the front office isn’t shy about admitting that there is a lack of depth on the pitching side of things. Having Samardzija around to add stability to the rotation would be a huge step for this team in 2013 and hopefully beyond.