ST. LOUIS In their first meeting, Jeff Samardzija sold himself as a starter to Theo Epstein with a detailed plan of attack on how hed get ready for this season.
Samardzija moved to his place in Arizona last November, because it can be so boring and monotonous out there: Youre either playing golf or working out.
The Cubs certainly noticed the commitment, and saw someone whos 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, with enough raw athleticism to play Sundays in the NFL.
Here comes the next phase for Samardzija, who threw 88 innings last season exclusively as a reliever. Remember that manager Dale Sveum wants his team to play with an edge, whether its Matt Garza screaming into his glove or Ryan Dempster trying to mask his temper.
We want them to want to fight Dale to come out of the game, pitching coach Chris Bosio said Saturday. Thats our mindset from jump street. You got to be that guy. You got to want to stay out there in the toughest of tough situations. Finish what you start. Thats the goal.
The Cubs projected that Samardzija is built to (eventually) throw 200 innings, a target hed almost certainly like to reach this year. But hes never thrown more than 142 innings in a season before. It doesnt sound like theres a number out there where hed automatically or arbitrarily be shut down.
We have a plan that were going to follow, Bosio said. Its already been talked about with Dale and (general manager Jed Hoyer) and Theo.
It depends on how hard the innings are, how efficient he is. That really dictates how far a starter goes in the game. If hes efficient, hes going to pitch deeper and the same thing will be for Jeff and the rest of the guys. If hes efficient, hell pitch more innings. That pretty much answers itself.
But there will be a push-pull dynamic here. Sveum caught himself after Fridays 9-5 win over the Cardinals.
Five days earlier, Samardzija had thrown 110 pitches and almost put together a complete game against the Nationals. This time he needed 103 pitches to finish five innings and qualify for the win.
Its uncharted waters, Sveum said. But I think we have to be careful and I have to be careful of using those kind of things as excuses, too, just because its the first time hes done this and done that.
Hes pitched enough in the big leagues to understand all this.
Samardzija thanked the offense but pointed out that its obviously not the start you want to have just five and dive. The Cubs will have to monitor his workload, and will have off-days to play with this season, but they are also trying to create an identity.
Bosio is a big guy who pitched 11 seasons in the big leagues and can look players in the eyes. Hes old school, but still calls people dude. He expects his pitchers to throw inside and doesnt want anyone searching the dugout after the fifth inning.
Dont even look in, Bosio said. I just dont want that. Period. Im not going to be happy if youre looking in for help.
In one year, the talk has shifted from the Cubs being forced to carry Samardzija in the bullpen because he was out of minor-league options, to maybe being a top-of-the-rotation starter.
While Samardzija was being interviewed in the dugout during Saturdays FOX broadcast, Garza was throwing sunflower seeds at his face. On the air, Samardzija said something like: You have to have composure when you're dealing with idiots.
This group has some personality, and has kept the Cubs in pretty much every game so far this season.
We got some guys that like to get after it, Bosio said. Theyre loose, but at the same time, theres that internal burn that we want. We like competitive guys. Were a competitive staff. We were as players. We are as coaches.
These guys have taken the ball and ran with it in spring training. Now we have to get better as individuals and push each other. Thats what good teams do.
While Epstein generally believes that the postseason is a crapshoot, the Cubs president has found certain elements that show up more in the playoffs, and can help slightly tilt the odds in your favor.
One is having a strong top of the rotation, and Epstein believes that Samardzija has the raw components to be one of those pieces. The art is in developing that consistency.
If Samardzija gets to that level, and runs with Garza, maybe the Cubs arent that far from contention in the National League Central.
Samardzija is 27 years old, but his right arm doesnt have as much wear and tear as a typical major-league pitcher that age. There will be physical hurdles if hes as good as the Cubs think he could be.
But Samardzija has cleared one mentally. When he found out he made the rotation near the end of camp, he reflected on how far hes come from Notre Dame.
I went through college and I just played. It was natural. I really didnt have too many setbacks, Samardzija said. I havent had too many things that I really had to earn. I had to earn this and that feels good. To put that work in and see it pay off is pretty nice.