Samardzija believes hes in right place at right time

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Samardzija believes hes in right place at right time

Wednesday, April 27, 2011Posted: 5:05 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs understandably want to promote their homegrown players with billboards and bobblehead dolls.

Jeff Samardzija is no longer viewed through that lens, but he never really got caught up in all the hype anyway. Hes a dude who likes listening to Pink Floyd. He just happens to be freakishly athletic.

Samardzija is still only 26 years old, but everyone forgets that because hes been a name for so long, the built-in celebrity from being an All-American at Notre Dame.

He is only 10 months older than Darwin Barney, and just eight months older than Tyler Colvin. They were all born in 1985, but only one is perceived as being in a make-or-break year, the final guaranteed season of a 10 million contract.

Samardzija gets tired of football questions that undercut his commitment to the Cubs, but recognizes that its taken time to find his identity as a pitcher.

If you look at it, Im almost kind of younger than they are, Samardzija said. Baseball (had) always just kind of been what I did with my extra time. So to be here for the past four years going on my fifth year of only baseball Im really starting to see all that work Ive been doing paying off.

All these adjustments we made in my mechanics and all the pitches weve changedI feel like Ive tried everything and now Ive kind of came out the (other) side with what I know works for me. I just feel real good right now.

Samardzijas out of minor-league options, and that was mentioned every time someone wrote a story about how the Cubs would construct their Opening Day roster.

But the Cubs arent just carrying Samardzija, whos thrown nine consecutive scoreless innings to slice his ERA from 7.50 to 3.14. Hes developed a real feel for his slider and there were never any doubts about his velocity.

Hes got major-league stuff just command it, manager Mike Quade said. Hes doing that right now. Hes all over the glove on a regular basis and hes down in the zone.

Baseball America projected Samardzija as the 20th-best overall prospect in the 2006 draft, though he fell to fifth round amid concerns that he was headed to the NFL.

General manager Jim Hendry listened to his good friend Paul Mainieri then the Notre Dame baseball coach, now at Louisiana State and the Cubs made it an easy financial decision.

He played football in front of 90,000 people on national television, Mainieri recalled last year. (Nothings) going to scare (him). He has the athletic ability. Hes got the arm strength. Hes got the It Factor. Hes got the unwavering confidence. Hes got everything that you need except he just needed to develop his repertoire of pitches.

Thats been a process, but Samardzijas potential and intangibles were apparent then, and shouldnt be completely dismissed now.

You wondered how the Cubs could trust Samardzija after he walked four batters in one inning on April 9, running his total to eight through his first three appearances.

The Cubs cant run Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol out there every time they have a lead or its a close game. Samardzija responded by winning two during this just-completed homestand, and hes notched 16 strikeouts in 14.1 innings.

Ive just been trying to take a pretty consistent approach, Samardzija said. My whole career Ive kind of been battling with getting caught up with every pitch and every outcome. (But) you (have to) take the same mentality with every pitch.

Samardzija did it in the heat of the 2008 pennant race, posting a 2.28 ERA in 27.2 innings. But he says that if you compare the film from then and now, hes a totally different pitcher.

Thats just part of growing as a baseball player, Samardzija said. When I first got called up, I was just an athlete throwing what I thought I could throw. Now I really feel like Im starting to pitch and approach hitters a different way. Its just about being comfortable up there and (having) confidence.

Samardzija was just getting by on adrenaline and pure athleticism that summer and getting profiled by Sports Illustrated. But this was never a publicity stunt for him. It doesnt matter what the Cubs do with their club option for 2012. Hell keep evolving.

To have a long big-league career youve got to make adjustments, Samardzija said. You always got to stay a step ahead of the curve.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."