Wednesday, April 27, 2011Posted: 5:05 PM
By Patrick Mooney
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.