MESA, Ariz. Dale Sveum had two words for all the skeptics who still think of Jeff Samardzija as the former Notre Dame football player, and remember his struggles at the big-league level.
Told ya, Sveum said, opening his Thursday morning media session.
The day before, Samardzija sliced through the Kansas City Royals lineup for three scoreless innings. The Cubs manager was raving about Samardzijas control and 91 mph cutters at Surprise Stadium.
I cant remember the last time Ive seen a power arm like that come into spring training and everythings been that crisp, Sveum said. He doesnt throw any scuds. Everythings at least somewhat where he wants it to be.
Its almost a waste of his time to go drive an hour. Its like he didnt even break a sweat. He was that good. Its an interesting dilemma were gonna (face) here in a few weeks.
Samardzija headlines a group Chris Volstad, Randy Wells, Travis Wood and Rodrigo Lopez among them competing for two open spots in the rotation.
Volstad went out and matched Samardzija by throwing three scoreless innings with one hit and three strikeouts in Thursdays 10-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners at HoHoKam Stadium.
More than 2,000 miles away, Carlos Zambrano was making his debut with the Miami Marlins (four outs, three runs, three walks, four strikeouts). The Cubs see Volstad and think he can be much more than the guy traded for Zambrano (or a guy with career 32-39 record and 4.59 ERA).
Volstad is 6-foot-8, 25 years old and a former first-round pick. He has been listening to pitching coach Chris Bosio, who thinks the Cubs can tap into that potential.
Its not really individual pitches or working on anything new, Volstad said. Its just how to use the stuff that I already have, (finding) a mental approach. (Its) getting inside their heads and thinking about hitters mindset and tendencies.
Mentally, Samardzija is in a different place. This offseason, while Chicago was caught up in the Theo Epstein hype, he lived in Arizona and quietly trained at the Cubs complex. A new front office would like to see him build off his breakout year as a reliever (8-4, 2.97 ERA) and develop into a frontline starter.
Theres room to grow. Sveum has indicated that its not necessarily a lock that Paul Maholm will be the No. 3 starter. (Maholm was sick early in camp and hasnt made a Cactus League appearance yet, but the left-hander has been on a regular throwing program and should pitch in a game within the next five days.)
Sveum wouldnt go so far as to say a starting job is Samardzijas to lose, but its hard to ignore the momentum.
He works out like a madman, Sveum said. Hes built to go 220, 230 innings, the whole package. Its a managers dream to have somebody like that.