Samardzija has a big chip on his shoulder

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Samardzija has a big chip on his shoulder

SURPRISE, Ariz. Jeff Samardzija still looks the same, with long hair, a goatee and the 6-foot-5-inch, 225-pound frame the Cubs think can handle 200 innings.

There are subtle differences. Several times manager Dale Sveum has described Samardzija as on a mission, words that usually dont really mean much in spring training, but you do notice that the swagger is back.

Thats 100 percent correct, Samardzija said. I hold a lot of stuff inside. I dont say too much stuff, but I have a big chip on my shoulder, especially the older I get and I slowly see my football skills diminishing. I got to understand that I got to start pitching good. It means something to me.

At the age of 27, Samardzija believes he belongs in the rotation. He helped his cause by breezing through three scoreless innings in Wednesdays 6-4 win over the Kansas City Royals at Surprise Stadium. He faced nine batters, struck out three and then joked about football afterward.

Thats telling because Samardzija one of the most accessible players on the team could sometimes get defensive when reporters brought it up in the past.

That topics been a rollercoaster, Samardzija said. There are times where I dont mind it at all and I have fun with it and there are times where it really cuts me. I felt like I made that decision based on the right reasons. From my heart, thats what I wanted to do play baseball.

So I never felt like I had to or needed to defend myself. I just felt like people should understand that it was for the right reasons, when the truth is you got to prove to them that its the right reasons.

Like Ive always said, Im trying to be the Cubs pitcher and not the former Notre Dame football player.

Sveum who once turned down a football and baseball scholarship to Arizona State coming out of high school sees value in Samardzijas experience. It takes guts.

To perform on a football field, especially at a major-college level, is a tremendous amount of pressure, Sveum said. Millions of people watching on TV, let alone the 100,000 people (in the stands) on Saturday. The training and the work ethic and the shape you have to be in to play at that level is just off-the-charts.

Samardzija may have been rushed to the big leagues in 2008, but the Cubs couldnt resist his potential in the middle of a pennant race. He spent most of the next two seasons at Triple-A Iowa, tinkering with his mechanics and developing his pitches.

It might not have been the best route, but like I said before, it was the necessary route at the time, Samardzija said. Lou (Piniella) and Jim (Hendry) and all those guys that were here you got to win just to keep your job. In 08 and 09, we were trying to win. And if they thought that me being in the bullpen in the big leagues was the best way to win, then thats how its going to go.

People tend to forget that were just pawns here. Were just the guys on the chess board. Everyone else is making the moves.

Samardzija finally began to see results last season, going 8-4 with a 2.97 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 88 innings out of the bullpen. Theo Epsteins front office sees his velocity, build and confidence and thinks this could be a legitimate starter.

The biggest thing this regime has done is come in and instilled confidence in me, which has been huge, Samardzija said, because Ive battled these last few years just trying to prove that Im where Im supposed to be.

Ever since Day 1, these guys (have) told me that theyre putting a lot on me, theyre expecting a lot out of me and that they know I can do it. Sometimes (thats) what you need to push you over the edge.

Anthony Rizzo fires back at Miguel Montero: 'That labels you as a selfish player'

Anthony Rizzo fires back at Miguel Montero: 'That labels you as a selfish player'

Anthony Rizzo pulled no punches in firing back at Miguel Montero after Tuesday night's rant.

Montero didn't even wait to get changed after the Washington Nationals stole seven bases, immediately throwing pitcher Jake Arrieta under the bus for not holding players on.

Rizzo — the face of the franchise and one of the leaders in the clubhouse — hopped on David Kaplan's radio show on ESPN 1000 Wednesday morning and aboslutely ripped Montero:

Here are Rizzo's complete comments:

"He's obviously frustrated. Whenever anyone steals seven bases, Miggy gets frustrated. It's his second time barking in the media and not just going to his teammates. It's something as a veteran like he is, you'd think he'd make smarter decisions about it."

Rizzo said he was not aware of the Montero rant in the clubhouse Tuesday night and only heard about it afterwards.

"I had no idea aobut it until I got back to the hotel and saw all this stuff. I got a couple text messages from a couple of my friends just kinda asking, 'What the hell is this guy doing?' Listen, we win as a team, we lose as a team. If you start pointing fingers, I think that just labels you as a selfish player. I disagree. We have another catcher that throws out everyone who steals and he has Jon Lester who doesn't pick over. It's no secret. I think going to the media with things like that, I don't think it's very professional."

So how does Rizzo handle it from here?

"Something like this, it's out in the public now. Things that get handled with coffee or in the clubhouse are things that people never know about. Sometimes, they get out. But this was obviously all over 'Sportscenter' last night and whatnot and we're talking about it today. We win as 25, we lose as 25. To call your teammates out via the press, I mean, what's the point?"

Rizzo is dead on in referencing Willson Contreras, who is throwing out 34 percent of runners attempting to steal against him, even serving as Lester's personal catcher. Contreras may have one of the best arms in the game, but he is catching the exact same pitching staff Montero is and has found a way to nab 16 would-be basestealers out of 47 attempts.

Meanwhile, Cubs numbers list Montero as 0-for-31 in throwing out basestealers.

The league average caught-stealing rate is 28 percent.

Preview: Cubs continue series with Nationals tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs continue series with Nationals tonight on CSN

The Cubs continue their series with the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night in the nation's capital, and you can catch all the action on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com and via the NBC Sports app.

Coverage from the District of Columbia with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies begins at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the game for reaction and analysis on Cubs Postgame Live.

Tonight's starting pitching matchup: John Lackey (5-8, 4.74 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (8-2, 3.57 ERA)

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