Samardzija off to strong start this spring

MESA, Ariz. -- With several Chicago Cubs already suffering injuries in camp (Matt Garza, Ian Stewart, Josh Vitters) and others working their way back from previous injuries (Scott Baker), if there is one player seemingly ready for the regular season -- and possibly a big one -- it’s pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

After nearly getting his head taken off by a line drive up the middle, Samardzija got through his two innings of work in his Cactus League debut against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday in good fashion, and he knew what worked for him.

“I think the fastball, splitter like we did today,” Samardzija said. “That’s a big combo for me. Speed ‘em up, slow ‘em down. Didn’t walk anyone, that’s exciting. And kept the ball on the ground.”

Samardzija gave up one run on three hits but nothing was driven deep into the outfield. Plus, his slider was a mess.

“Slider, last year was really key for me, for a strike,” he said. “Anytime in the count. Pulling it and leaving it up high like today (Sunday) was unfortunate. It’s a big pitch for me.”

His catcher Dioner Navarro added: “I don’t he’s quite there yet but he threw some good pitches. His fastball was pretty good.”

Samardzija is amped for the season. He was throwing “playoff-like” bullpen sessions at the start of spring training, according to Cubs manager Dale Sveum and now, considering Garza’s injury, he has a chance to be the opening day starter.

“We’d have to cross that bridge when we got there,” Samardzija said. “It would be just good to see your hard work pay off. That’s what it comes down to. Just want to keep that good momentum going.”

As for that line drive up the middle?

“I got out of there in proper time,” Samardzija said with a smile.

Navarro’s debut: Navarro is considering a number switch from 4 to 30, but joked after the game it might have to be delayed after his perfect start: he was 1-for-1 with a walk and a three-run home run.

“It starts in spring training and hopefully it carries over to the season,” Navarro said after the game.

Navarro didn’t get much playing time last season for Cincinnati and is the elder statesman of catchers for the Cubs. He’ll probably still go for that number change.

“It means a lot me,” he said. “No. 30 means a lot. Pretty much been wearing No. 30 for my whole career.”

The quote: “After the second time I asked where the magnet was.” -- Navarro to Samardzija after several balls were hit hard back up the middle.