Confidence game: Samardzija feels sense of momentum around Cubs

Confidence game: Samardzija feels sense of momentum around Cubs

May 15, 2013, 10:00 pm
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If Jeff Samardzija wants to get paid like a No. 1 starter, he should win games like this.

After Wednesday night’s 6-3 victory over the Colorado Rockies, Samardzija sat down at the same table inside the Wrigley Field interview room/dungeon where first baseman Anthony Rizzo had his big press conference some 55 hours earlier.

So is another “core” player ready to get back to talking contract again?

[RELATED: Marmol denies he wants to get traded from Cubs]

“Absolutely not,” Samardzija said, laughing. “Nope. I’m having fun. This is a great team. We’re really coming around right now. We’re playing great baseball. We’re not shooting ourselves in the foot. I’m just really looking to keep this momentum going.”

With the season nearly 25 percent complete, the Cubs are 17-23 but within the past week have: locked up Rizzo potentially through 2021 with a contract that could be worth some $70 million; beaten Washington Nationals aces Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez on back-to-back days; and taken another series from a Rockies lineup that 3-4-5 went Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton.

On the same day the Philadelphia Phillies announced a minor-league deal with Carlos Zambrano, Samardzija paid tribute to Big Z in the second inning by drilling a two-run homer into the bleachers.

[RELATED: Zambrano signs minor-league contract with Phillies]

While the crowd of 38,083 did the wave, Samardzija lasted eight innings, limiting the Rockies (21-19) to two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out seven for his first win since Opening Day.

“He used the whole four corners of the plate,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He pitched up. He pitched in. He pitched away. He used his slider. He used his split. He used a lot of cutters. He just used his whole repertoire.   

“He knew what he was doing tonight. He was pitching. He wasn’t just out there throwing to one side of the plate. He was mixing it up, keeping them off-balance and breaking a lot of bats.”

That’s how Samardzija looked on April 1, when it seemed like the meter would just keep running for any long-term extension. Across eight scoreless innings, he limited the Pittsburgh Pirates to two hits and one walk while striking out nine.

[MORE -- Face of the franchise: Tulowitzki sees risks/rewards in Rizzo deal]

Samardzija’s camp had little interest in signing last winter, not wanting to sell him short after only one breakout year as a starter. The Notre Dame All-American had already banked millions after turning down the NFL and expected to put up more numbers that could command top-of-the-rotation money.

Samardzija’s 2-5 with a 3.49 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 56.2 innings through nine starts. If the Cubs hope to force the front office to make difficult decisions at the trade deadline, then they’re going to need their frontline starters for that snowball effect.  

Samardzija breathed a huge sigh of relief after walking Gonzalez in the sixth inning and watching Tulowitzki fly out to the warning track in center. The next inning, Samardzija pointed at Alfonso Soriano after the leftfielder played a ball off the ivy and made a strong throw to nail Josh Rutledge 7-6-4 trying to stretch a single into a double.  

Plus, the Cubs should be getting Samardzija’s bro – Matt Garza – off the disabled list within the next week or two.

“Winning close games is huge,” Samardzija said. “This game’s a lot about confidence, a lot about how you feel out there on the field. You make your own breaks.”

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