Samardzija might be most valuable in 'pen

Jeff Samardzija was one of the more effective relievers in the major leagues last season. AP Photo/Morry Gash

MESA, Ariz. -- Games haven't started, but suddenly there is a buzz about the way Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija is throwing the ball early in camp.

Guest instructor Rick Sutcliffe was singing Samardzija's praises on Twitter, and the word seems to have gotten out that the right-hander is making inroads toward finally becoming a starter.

"I don't think he's doing anything that we didn't think was going to happen," manager Dale Sveum said Wednesday. "We know he has a great arm and the body to start and the endurance probably. It's a wait-and-see but he's pitching the way he left off last year and he's just doing it in a more starter fashion."

Giving Samardzija the chance to start was a good move by the new Cubs coaching staff. He had an outstanding second half out of the bullpen and dangling the carrot of a starting spot was his reward.

But now that he seems to have found his stride again in the bullpen, isn't it asking for trouble to suddenly change that role?

Sveum said it best when he remarked that Samardzija was pitching where he left off last year. If he can do for the 2012 bullpen what he did for the relief corps after the break last season, the Cubs would be in business while trying to hold late leads.

Samardzija turned 27 in January so perhaps this is the Cubs' way of thinking that if they are going to turn the former wide receiver into a starting pitcher they had better do it now.

But the Cubs have plenty of starting candidates to fill out the last two spots in the rotation like Rodrigo Lopez, Andy Sonnanstine, Chris Volstad, Randy Wells and Travis Wood. Two guys figure to step up from that group.

"We have a lot of talented arms and we are really deep this year; it's awesome," starter Matt Garza said. "We're going to have a lot of competition and that will make it great coming out of camp with guys who have been competing all camp, especially for their job. That brings the best out of guys."

What the Cubs need is somebody that can close out the seventh inning with a lead, or have a go-to guy on the days Kerry Wood needs a break from the setup role.

Samardzija deserves all the credit for earning one more opportunity to earn a starting spot, and he could still land a rotation spot with a lights out spring.

But if he winds up in the bullpen when the season starts it shouldn't be looked at as if he failed. It will be because that's where he fills the greatest need.