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Jeff Samardzija impresses GM

MESA, Ariz. -- Jeff Samardzija's knockout spring training has the Chicago Cubs' new general manager ranting and raving.

Jed Hoyer not only has been impressed with the way Samardzija has conducted himself while trying to win a rotation spot for the first time in his career, Hoyer said it is easily one of the highlights of camp.

"He's been unbelievable," Hoyer said Tuesday. "He does look like a different guy than when he did even at the beginning of last year, seeing him from the other side. It's wonderful. He looks like he's on a mission to be a starter. Clearly he's grabbed that competition by the throat this spring."

Samardzija took the challenge serious enough to arrive in Arizona in November, three months in advance of spring training. His dedication looks close to paying off.

Indications are that Samardzia could ultimately end up as the No. 3 starter in the rotation behind Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza.

"Obviously it's still early, but it's hard to ignore what he's done so far and hard to ignore the attitude he's brought really even from apparently the last two months of last year," Hoyer said. "But as long as [president of baseball operations] Theo [Epstein] and I have been here his attitude has been unbelievable, and it's nice to see an athlete that focused."

Samardzija has pitched three times in Cactus League play, but he was already earning rave reviews in camp before spring games began. He pitched a scoreless three innings against Kansas City on March 7, gave up two runs in three innings to the Reds on March 12 and gave up one run on three hits over four innings Saturday against the Texas Rangers.

Saturday's outing might have been the most impressive of all. With the Cubs playing in Las Vegas, in a ballpark traditionally known to favor hitters, and with the wind blowing out, Samardzija kept a loaded lineup in check.

Doug Padilla covers the Cubs for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.