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Cubs-Sox spring game just an appetizer for main event

3/27/2015

MESA, Ariz. – Two good friends faced off in a rivalry that might return to prominence this year as the Chicago Cubs beat the White Sox 6-3 in a meaningless spring game on Friday.

Next time they face each other, regular-season wins will be on the line.

“I think we’re seeing a little feast or famine out of the Cubbies this year,” former Cubs and current White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija said after giving up four home runs and striking out nine. “They don’t get cheated. It was fun to pitch against them, a little weird. Definitely a little weird for sure, but I felt good out there, and as the game went on, I felt a lot better than the first inning. I got the ball down in the zone. When the ball is flying out of the park, a lot of times that’s what it is. When you’re swinging that hard, if it’s up in the zone, they’re going to get it.”

Jorge Soler, Starlin Castro, Chris Coghlan and Anthony Rizzo all took their former teammate deep while golfing buddy Jason Hammel beat him on the mound and at the plate with a second-inning single. Hammel gave up two runs in six innings.

“If you go back and watch the video, it’s not very pretty,” Hammel said of his hit. “It took me 3 seconds to get out of the box. I didn’t blast it, but I got a knock. It’s fun going up against old comrades.”

Samardzija added: “Hammel is a good hitter; he just doesn’t like to hit.”

The relationship between Samardzija and his former team will be a nice storyline to follow when the teams face off later this summer. Samardzija was even asked about the Kris Bryant situation. The Cubs probably won’t start the season with the player who leads all spring hitters in home runs.

“It’s a tough call for them, but if you want to win and compete, you have to have your best guys out there, period,” Samardzija said. “But it’s not my call to make.”

Speaking of winning, here’s a question worthy of debate: Who will have more victories this year, the Cubs or Sox? Ask 10 Chicagoans – with no rooting interest if you can find them – and there’s a good chance five will say the Cubs and five will say the Sox after both teams had busy and productive offseasons. The emotion of the city series is definitely something new Cubs manager Joe Maddon is going to embrace.

“I like the rivalry component,” Maddon said before the game. “It makes for a great barroom discussion, which I’m really into. I love all that stuff. I’m really excited to be a part of it.”

Maddon was asked if he was aware of the intensity of the rivalry between the two fan bases. He experienced it, to an extent, as a coach with the Angels for many years when they played the Dodgers.

“The fan base in Chicago is probably more charged about it than in Southern California,” Maddon said. “All this stuff is really neat. … I’m a baseball freak. I know the rivalry of those two franchises.”

Maddon said he spent time at a Southside Chicago bar last season while managing the Tampa Bay Rays. He knows where the allegiances of that area reside.

“They pretty much told me how they feel about the Cubs,” Maddon said with a laugh.

As for Hammel and Samardzija, both said it was weird being teammates on different teams (the Cubs and A's) last season than opponents in the same city this year.

“You want to laugh, but you still have to do your job,” Hammel said.

And Hammel didn’t disagree with Samardzija’s assessment of the Cubs. Home runs and strikeouts are kind of their thing these days.

“We have a little bit of veteran leadership where maybe they can teach a different approach, but you also have young guys who are anxious to get up there and swing the bat,” Hammel said. “And that’s why they do put up those crazy numbers on both sides, the swings and misses and the homers.

“It could very well be feast or famine.”

Samardzija has seen first-hand as an employee and now as an opponent the kind of talent the Cubs have coming. Just because he wears a rival’s uniform now, it hasn’t changed his opinion.

“They’re a young team and young teams are aggressive,” he said. “If they can rein it back a little and then add that to the natural talent to swing, you’re going to see some great things. It’s about talking the next step. They have the talent. We’ve always known that.”

Samardzija saw that talent in the form of fly balls leaving the park all over the place on Friday. What will come this summer? With just a week left this spring, we’re getting closer to finding some answers.