Samardzija out to prove he’s a No. 1 starter for Cubs

Samardzija out to prove he’s a No. 1 starter for Cubs
July 29, 2013, 11:30 pm
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Jeff Samardzija wants to leave no doubts and prove to everyone that he can be a No. 1 starter.

This is exactly what he’s talking about, walking off the mound after seven scoreless innings to a nice ovation from the crowd of 32,997 at Wrigley Field, again showing why “Samardzija Watch” will be the story for the Cubs this upcoming winter.

The Cubs wound up losing 5-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night, with Pedro Strop having the kind of ninth-inning meltdown that already sealed their fate as sellers. With less than 48 hours until the non-waiver deadline, Samardzija’s name is being mentioned in trade rumors, because Theo Epstein’s front office will listen to just about anything.

“It wouldn’t be a good move, so I haven’t thought about it at all, to tell you the truth,” Samardzija said.

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For the Cubs to even seriously consider dealing Samardzija, a contending team would have to rip apart its farm system. If the Cubs were able to wring four or five prospects out of the Texas Rangers for maybe 13 Matt Garza starts, then imagine what the price would be for two-and-a-half years of Samardzija’s prime.

Indications are the Cubs will make signing Samardzija (6-9, 3.75 ERA, 146 strikeouts) a top priority this offseason, when he will have almost two full seasons as a big-league starter on his resume. Remember he wanted to put together a larger body of work before negotiating a long-term extension.

Within the past year, core players Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have signed potentially club-friendly contracts and gained generational wealth. Samardzija, who already leveraged his All-American football career at Notre Dame into a $10 million deal, comes at it from a different angle.

Castro wanted to take care of his family in the Dominican Republic and already had a strong track record as a two-time All-Star with “Super Two” status. Rizzo had the game taken away from him as a Boston Red Sox prospect while he recovered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that experience informed his perspective.

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Samardzija is fearless, and in the sixth inning his instincts led him to jump at a ball that bounced back to the mound and out of his right hand. With runners on first and second, he picked it up and threw out Norichika Aoki by a step. The Brewers (44-61) managed only three hits off Samardzija, who struck out seven and walked two.

“He was pretty much completely dominating the whole game,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He did his job. You can’t do any better than that.”

Samardzija wasn’t happy when the Cubs shut him down last September. He needs only 56 more innings to reach 200, his magic number this season.

“It means everything to me,” Samardzija said. “Going into spring training, that was No. 1 on my list to pitch every fifth day and be healthy. (You want to) be a guy on this team (where) every fifth day that name’s in the lineup and we got a chance to win that game.

“That’s been my No. 1 goal from the start of the season – to pitch and be strong every game. I like where I’m at right now.”

The Cubs (48-56) hope to build their rotation around the 28-year-old Samardzija, who’s now the longest-tenured player on the team. He thinks of himself a Chicago guy after growing up in Indiana and going to games at Wrigley Field and on the South Side.

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Samardzija has also built a strong relationship with Sveum. They met on the same day Sveum had his introductory news conference at Wrigley Field in November 2011, with Samardzija lobbying to become a starter and an important part of the future.

“Sveumer’s a consistent dude,” Samardzija said. “Every time he comes to the park, he has one goal in mind. That’s fielding the lineup that has the (best) chance to win the game. He does a great job of instilling that confidence in every player. With this roster we have, there’s a lot of scrappy guys that can play the game. With those two things combined, I feel like every day we show up and we’re ready to win a ballgame in any form necessary.”