SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — All the Twitter noise and connect-the-dots speculation means Jeff Samardzija’s name will pop up almost any time a pitcher on a contending team feels discomfort or goes for an MRI.
Everyone knows the Cubs are open for business, though not necessarily shopping their Opening Day starter right now. That became the backdrop for Monday’s 3-2 win over the San Francisco Giants at a sold-out Scottsdale Stadium. It will hang over every start Samardzija makes in a Cubs uniform, however many more that might be.
“Going with the flow, man,” Samardzija said.
The latest round of rumors came after Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy left starts with injuries, forcing the Atlanta Braves to rethink their rotation. A lot will happen between now and the July 31 deadline. But Samardzija looked sharp in front of 10,545 fans, throwing 17 consecutive strikes at one point while giving up two runs in four innings and getting five strikeouts against zero walks.
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The audience included president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer sitting behind home plate. The large group of scouts had representatives from teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates.
“You’d be lying if you said that things don’t cross your mind like that,” Samardzija said. “I’m human and I have different thoughts throughout the day and sometimes the uncertainty of the situation pops into my head, for sure.
“But ultimately that’s just an excuse. I want to go out there and pitch and do my job with no excuses. I’m not about to come in and say: ‘Well, you know, my mind’s shaken because of this or that.’ It’s not gonna happen.
“I’m going to come out and do my job. If I win, I win because I did that. If I don’t win, it’s because I didn’t perform up to the task. That’s how I look at it. I’m a very practical guy and it’s black-and-white for me. Right now, I’m wearing a Cubs uniform and that’s how I’m approaching it.”
Samardzija is the longest-tenured guy in the clubhouse. On the same day Barry Bonds began his image-rehabilitation tour, Samardzija recalled facing the Giants slugger in Scottsdale in 2007.
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“I remember I gave up my first hit in the pros to him here on this field,” Samardzija said. “Bonds hit a ball through the hole on the shift and hooked a sinker through. So that was like one of my earliest memories of being with the Cubs.
“I was happy as heck telling everybody he just got a single off me.”
Samardzija also remembers what it was like in 2008 when the Cubs won 97 games, and that’s another reason why negotiations over a long-term contract have stalled. This time, Samardzija went up against Matt Cain, who threw five perfect innings and struck out seven of the 15 batters he faced.
Cain has two World Series rings and a $127 million contract. Samardzija is 29 years old and believes he’s so much better than his career numbers (29-35, 4.19 ERA). Two seasons away from free agency, Samardzija wants to get paid like a frontline starter and be somewhere he can pitch in October and start three World Series games.
“My goal as a pitcher is to be that guy,” Samardzija said. “I want it in big situations, big games. I want the coaches to not have any questions on who this is. It’s: ‘Boom, boom, boom, let’s go, and now let’s worry about everything else.’
“That’s where I want to see myself as a pitcher. That’s what it’s all about, getting to the playoffs and winning championships.”