MESA, Ariz. – Reporters used to ask Jeff Samardzija questions about the worst-case, what-if scenarios, handicapping his chances to make the team or the rotation, wondering how he’d react to the idea of going to the bullpen.
Now the discussions are about long-term contract extensions and what it would mean to start Opening Day. Samardzija isn’t pitching for his career in spring training anymore.
So it didn’t matter that Samardzija felt like his “slider was garbage” during Sunday’s 4-3 win over the San Francisco Giants in front of 7,784 fans at HoHoKam Stadium. He was just glad that he was able to duck out of the way and not get hit by a line drive. He finished his two innings and gave up one run to the defending World Series champs.
It’s been one week since Matt Garza strained a lat muscle during a live batting practice session. He’s said to be feeling better, but the Cubs are still waiting for him to heal and don’t know exactly when he will be able to reboot his throwing program.
That would appear to make Samardzija – who said he hasn’t spoken about it with manager Dale Sveum yet – the odds-on favorite to start Opening Day.
“We’re still waiting to see what happens with 'Garz,' how he comes along,” Samardzija said. “They know where I stand on it and how I feel. But it’s nice to have a few guys that are capable of doing it. Hopefully, it gets decided out on the field instead of in the training room.
“Obviously, it’s more important to have 'Garz' ready for one of those first five games than rush him along and see what happens. He’s a really key part to this team, and we all know that.”
The Big Three also includes Edwin Jackson, who signed a four-year, $52 million contract this winter. But Samardzija is the one with the history here.
Samardzija posted a 2.58 ERA in 11 starts after the All-Star break and the precautionary shutdown came at 174.2 innings. He finished last season at PNC Park, where the Cubs will open the 2013 campaign on April 1 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“It’s just good as an athlete to see all your hard work pay off,” Samardzija said. “Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. All these dudes in this locker room work their tail off to be as good as they want to be. When you start getting results, (then) it starts to snowball. I just want to keep that good momentum going.”