Jeff Samardzija poised for another rise

Jeff Samardzija made big strides in 2012 in his first season in the Cubs rotation. Daniel Shirey/US Presswire

MESA, Ariz. -- Could Jeff Samardzija be on the cusp of becoming a top-of-the-rotation force for the Chicago Cubs?

Many major league scouts see big things ahead for Samardzija, who reported to spring training many weeks ahead of his teammates to prepare for what he believes will be a breakout season for him.

“Jeff looks a little better than he did last year when he reported for camp,” Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “The solid year he had last season, learning how to set up hitters and learning how to change speeds, has carried over. He is great shape. After running an hour and a half up Camelback Mountain (Tuesday) he threw a solid 30-pitch bullpen. He is in a pretty good place right now.”

Samardzija delivered numerous quality performances during a 9-13 2012 season, in which he recorded at 3.81 ERA and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

“I was able to learn how to control my emotions when things got a little hairy on the mound,” Samardzija said. “I was able to learn to subtract rather than to add velocity when I was in a jam. Once I crossed that road, where I learned I didn’t have to push harder, you start to see better results and get rewarded for learning better technique.”

The 27-year-old starter is so confident in his future that he walked away from discussions with the Cubs on basic talks of a three-year deal.

“My goal is to take advantage of my position of being in the rotation,” Samardzija said. “My sense of urgency that I have to be on top of my game from game one in spring training is not there. It will be there for start one of the season. I essentially was able to set my sights back a month from last year and now I can use the spring to get ready for the season. Don’t get me wrong, I want to have a great spring training , I’m not taking this time lightly at all.”

A top talent evaluator from a National League East team was blown away by the progress Samardzija made in his first season as a starter.

“He was just mediocre in mid- and late-game pitch selection early in the season,” the scout said. “When I saw him again in September he looked like a 10-year veteran. He was using all of his pitches to work out of trouble. The kid was the most improved pitcher I saw last year if you look from the beginning of the season to the end.”

Samardzjia started running the two and a half miles up Camelback Mountain with former teammate Ryan Dempster last season. “I do it maybe once a week at the start of the week,” he said. “It really gets my legs going and my endurance up. You learn how to pace yourself to get up the mountainside just like I learned how to pace myself on the mound last year. The lesson, I guess, in both is that speed isn’t the most important thing.”