MESA, Ariz. – Jeff Samardzija is going to ride the wave of emotions that will come during the first Opening Day start of his up-and-down career.
Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry thought of Samardzija as a classic bright-lights, big-city guy. The All-American wide receiver has begun to deliver on the promise that got him $10 million guaranteed out of Notre Dame.
Samardzija made his final Cactus League start on Tuesday night at HoHoKam Stadium, putting together five solid innings before a bullpen meltdown led to an 11-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
Next up: The Pittsburgh Pirates on April 1 at PNC Park.
“You just got to stay calm and level-headed,” Samardzija said. “You got to have that same mentality all the time and be under control. It’s definitely something that I’ve had to learn over the years, for sure. But I’d much rather pitch in front of 40,000 than 400 in Double-A. That’s not really what I enjoy doing.”
It wasn’t that long ago that Samardzija was on the ropes and running out of minor-league options. Now he feels the responsibility that comes with Matt Garza (lat) and Scott Baker (elbow) beginning the season on the disabled list.
The Big Three is down to Samardzija and Edwin Jackson.
“Starting Opening Day, you already have that label that you need to be the horse on the team and carry the team every fifth day,” Samardzija said. “It will be nice when Garza and those guys come back and they’re in the rotation right behind you and throwing in the same series. Me and Edwin and Garz…that’s going to be a ton of fun.
“(But) we need to take care of business right now (and) put ourselves in a situation when we get those guys back. (We need) to be ready to go and really make a run for the summer.”
Under the lights on Tuesday night, Samardzija allowed one run on five hits, finishing his spring with a 3.51 ERA in six starts. He put up 19 strikeouts against six walks in 25.2 innings. It’s time for games that matter.
“It’s been a long spring,” he said. “I think everyone’s ready to get out of here.”