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Friday, March 22, 2013
Samardzija getting there, at plate especially

By Jesse Rogers



PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's probably not a good thing when a pitcher is more productive at the plate than on the mound, but in Jeff Samardzija's case it would have been hard to top what he did with his bat in his second-to-last Cactus League start against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday night.

Samardzija went 2-for-2 with a home run and RBI single to go along with a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt. Unfortunately, he gave up more than he drove in.

"There are a couple pitches there, you make a difference and maybe they're outs instead of doubles," he said after the Cubs' 7-4 victory.

Or maybe they're doubles instead of home runs. Most of the damage -- Samardzija gave up nine hits and four runs in six innings -- happened when he threw his fastball.

"Just because it was up a couple of times," Samardzija said. "I settled down there the last three innings. It was really positive for sure."

He did strike out the side in the fifth, and battling through, while keeping the Cubs in the game, might be the best sign of all. An ace -- and that's what Samardzija is trying to become -- should be able to win sometimes without his best stuff. On Thursday, Samardzija's off-speed pitches made up for his trouble with the fastball.

"Knowing it's closer to Opening Day, it kind of gets a little more serious," he said.

Samardzija threw 93 pitches in between doing his damage at the plate. His home run was his second of the spring in just four at-bats.

"At the end of the year it might save you a couple games here or there," Samardzija said. "National League, you have to be able to handle the bat. I'm just trying to go up there and make contact."

But he's paid to pitch. And if he does, he'll get that big contract he and the Cubs have been discussing. But is he ready to be the ace? He has one start left before he begins to answer that question.

"New water [territory] for me, too," Samardzija said of being the Opening Day starter. "I haven't had to get ready for Opening Day yet. I'll kind of try and stay on the same schedule. My arm feels great, there is no reason to pull it back."

Samardzija says he wants to be a "little more crisp" with his pitches, "especially that fastball down in the zone." He'll need to be. It simply wasn't good enough on Thursday.

"It's just fine-tuning a couple things here and there," he said.

Interestingly, his hitting is already in midseason form while his pitching is just rounding into it -- or at least he hopes so.

"Overall we're right there, so it feels good," Samardzija said.

And so does hitting home runs.

"If I could slow down around the bases I'd be alright," he joked.

Notes:
-- Carlos Marmol pitched the eighth inning Thursday night, and Kyuji Fujikawa got the save throwing the ninth.

-- David DeJesus raised his average to .361, second among regulars this spring behind Starlin Castro.

-- Shortstop Javier Baez, back with the Cubs for one game, went 1-for-4 with a strikeout. He also threw wild to first on a hard-hit ball he was able to knock down.