- Doug Padilla, Chicago White Sox beat reporter
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MESA, Ariz. -- Jeff Samardzija is so locked into being a starting pitcher that just the mention of the bullpen drew a terse response Monday.
When it was noted that if the rotation doesn't pan out there is always a relief role available, Samardzija stopped the comment in its tracks.
"The worst question I've ever heard," Samardzija said.
Never mind that a question had yet to be asked. What didn't have to be asked was how seriously the right-hander is taking his latest opportunity at becoming a starter in the Cubs rotation as he heads into his sixth spring training with the club.
He's been so serious about it that he has essentially been in his own version of spring training since November.
"I've been here for about four months now working out for just that with the understanding from last year that that's where I want to be and that's what I want to do," he said. "It's all that has been on my mind since the end of the season last year and I haven't worked for anything but that.
"I don't have too many hobbies right now, I don't have too many things on the side, it's mostly just baseball and that's all I'm worried about."
It's probably best Samardzija keeps his head down and continues to plug away. The list of guys vying for the final two rotation spots is a long one with Randy Wells, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad and even Andy Sonnanstine and Casey Coleman.
The Notre Dame product is not short on confidence having gone 3-0 with a 2.23 ERA out of the bullpen after the All-Star break. That success, as much as anything, has given Samardzija the confidence he can take on an even bigger role.
It also doesn't hurt the right-hander that in at least two previous springs he had experience trying out to be a starter.
"When I did it in '08 and '09 competing for a [rotation] spot, I didn't really put too much into it," he said. "I just figured you go out, have a couple of starts and they put you in the rotation and that's how it went.
"I'm a little more aware of it now and the seriousness of camp, especially for the rotation and I'm taking it seriously. I wanted to come into camp in midseason form and I think I have done that. I just want to carry that into [batting practice] sessions and then when the game starts."
Arriving to spring training four months early certainly shows how seriously Samardzija is taking this chance. And even if he doesn't want to think about it, his second half from last year showed that he could be a candidate for a setup role if he doesn't break into the rotation.
The 27-year-old also said he has no hard feelings over being non-tendered this winter and forced to agree to a deal for less money.
"Yeah it wouldn't be very bright for them to pay me the money they didn't have to pay me," he said. "They just did the smart business move. Listen, it doesn't bother me none. I'm 27 and doing OK. That's for agents and the front office to deal with. As long as they have me here in a Cubs uniform then I will be happy. This is my home, I'm happy here and happy I had the season last year to make them want to bring me back this year."
Jeff Samardzija is so focused on starting that he doesn't even want to talk about an alternative.