SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If this were the regular season then Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija's reaction to his afternoon on the mound on Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks would have been puzzling.
Samardzija gave up four runs in 4 2/3 innings pitched, including two home runs. He said he felt “outstanding,” though the results were anything but. However, this is a different Samardzija than the one who came to the big leagues in 2008. He knows it's spring, he knows he’s the opening day starter and he knows what he needs to do to be ready.
“I felt outstanding, which is really exciting,” Samardzija said after the Cubs' 7-5 victory. “Probably the best I’ve felt all spring. We’ll get those off-speed pitches down in the zone and we’ll be all right.”
Samardzija said it would have been a different story if he was “all over the zone and erratic” though he did walk two including the pitcher.
“I thought today was a big turn for me today,” he said. “The adjustments I need to make are pretty simple, I feel like.”
Sometimes a pitcher can say that and it sounds like he’s convincing himself of those words but that’s not the case with Samardzija. He sounds like a man who knows exactly what he’s doing -- as he has since last season ended. Even a “B” game against Rangers’ minor leaguers last week helped him.
“If you’re in the environment of no anxiety and no pressure it allows you to be free on the mound with what you want to do,” Samardzija explained. “The results might not be what you want, but if you look back at your outing and say there are a couple things you did better than the time before, that’s what it’s all about.”
If this was, say, Carlos Marmol, then those words and those results might ring hollow but Samardzija is a man on a mission, the short-term culmination of which is his opening day start. But there are bigger goals. He’s not only looking at the rest of spring but into his first month of the season -- and beyond.
“Especially with facing Texas and Milwaukee, the next two starts, those are teams that we’ll face in the first month,” Samardzija explained. “Its good to get some work against their hitters, but you don’t want to show them everything in spring training when you’re about to face them in a couple weeks.”
So even if he gets hit a little in his next couple outings it probably won’t put him anywhere near panic mode. Samardzija is a cool customer and more mature than ever. He even took the homer he hit in stride.
“Close your eyes and you run into some things sometimes,” he joked.