SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija took the mound on Monday against the San Francisco Giants not long after the Atlanta Braves had a starting pitcher leave their game in Florida early for the second consecutive day. Anyone who's followed Samardzija’s contract situation knows the two events could be connected. On Monday, the Braves’ Brandon Beachy followed Kris Medlen's early exit from the day before as both pitchers left with arm troubles.
Atlanta had off-season interest in Samardzija, according to sources familiar with the situation, and likely would have inquired again before the July 31 trade deadline. Now they might need to move quicker.
“Going with the flow, man,” the laid back Samardzija said after throwing four innings against the Giants. “Sometimes the uncertainty of the situation pops in my head, for sure. Ultimately, that’s just an excuse. I want to go out there and do my job with no excuses. I’m not about to come in and say, ‘My mind is shaking,' because of this or that. That’s not going to happen.”
Samardzija is signed for $5.3 million for this season and wouldn’t become a free agent until after 2015. He threw over 200 innings for the first time in his career last year, not missing a turn in the rotation. All of that makes him attractive on the open market. There are scouts in the stands at every spring game so it’s hard to gauge interest based solely on that, but it probably doesn’t hurt that Samardzija feels good on the mound.
“I thought it went excellent,” Samardzija said of his day. “I felt awesome. ... I feel like I’m peaking at the right time.”
Samardzija gave up two runs and struck out five while throwing 64 pitches. He altered his offseason throwing program, starting later in the winter as he thinks that will pay off in terms of being stronger for the long haul. The number of pitches thrown might be his key statistic as he’s been trying to be more efficient. Averaging 16 an inning might be a little much but at one point he threw 17 consecutive strikes on Monday. That’s never bad. And it was the first start he used everything in his arsenal, including his splitter for the first time this spring.
“I fall back on it a lot,” Samardzija said. “My plan was to keep it in my pocket and force myself to work on other pitches.”
More than anything -- and maybe most important to the Braves -- Samardzija continues to take the mound and eat up those innings. He’s healthy and has a live arm but the Cubs must decide if they can max out on a deal for him now or closer to the deadline when teams get really desperate. They’ve had good fortune making deals in July over the last two years.
Or they could still end up signing him. Recently, Samardzija said he wants to prove he’s the pitcher for “Game 1, 3 and 7 of the World Series.”
“That was a statement based on how I want to see myself as a pitcher,” Samardzija stated. “I want to be that guy. I want the coaches not to have any question about who that is.”