Samardzija's 11 Ks show he is still fresh

CHICAGO -- As he approaches the 140-inning mark during his first year as a starting pitcher, the Chicago Cubs' Jeff Samardzija only seems to be getting stronger.

Samardzija tied his career best Monday with 11 strikeouts, and after allowing one run over seven innings to the Houston Astros he has given up two runs or less in six of his last eight outings.

“It’s my first year starting so I want to show this staff I can pitch late in the year and pitch deep into games late in the year,” said Samardzija, who is officially at 139 2/3 innings. “It’s a big proving year for me so just trying to cover all my bases with showing them I can be the guy that they want me to be.”

Two major hurdles have already been cleared. He found out as far back as spring training that trying to muscle up and get blazing fastballs past hitters only leads to trouble. He has since been refining the art of changing speeds and working off an impressive split-finger pitch.

He also learned the hard way that forcing a new pitch into the mix is a delicate process. He tried to develop a curveball on the fly in June only to struggle over a four-start stretch. He has since limited its use and has been on a roll once again.

“I think we’ll see toward the end of September where we’re at but I take a lot of pride in finishing strong,” Samardzija said. “I’d really like to take this season and look at it in different parts and see when I struggled there in June and to bounce back was big. It would be nice to bounce back with finishing strong with these last six or seven starts we have.”

The remainder of the season for Samardzija is about showing the coaching staff that he can finish off a year just as strong as he started it. In fact, it’s the goal he hopes the entire team works toward.

“We are a young team so that shouldn’t be an issue but we need to prove to each other that late in the year we still feel fresh and good to win a lot of games so when we do need that push we’ll be ready for it,” he said.

On top of all that, Samardzija also hopes to lead by example. With the trades of guys like Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker he has suddenly become one of the elder statesmen in the clubhouse at age 27.

“I’m not looking too much into it when it comes to being a leader and all that,” he said. “I feel like my whole life I have always done things on the field. I’m not a big vocal guy or a big rah-rah guy but with this team and with the older guys we do have we need to step up and play every day and show these guys how to play here at Wrigley every day.”