Samardzija confident heading into season

MESA, Ariz. -- One of the major question marks for the Chicago Cubs as they begin a new season is whether opening day starter Jeff Samardzija can be a leader of a rotation that has a lot to prove in 2013.

The 28-year-old pitcher will get that opportunity with both Scott Baker and Matt Garza on the disabled list for at least the first month of the baseball season.

Samardzija made his final start of the spring Tuesday evening with a 50-pitch tune up in preparation for his first opening day assignment in Pittsburgh April 1, holding the Reds to one run on five hits. Nervousness does not seem part of the pitcher’s DNA.

“You kind of want to hide too much emotion because it can get the best of you,” Samardzija said. “I have learned over the years that you have to stay calm. You have to have the same mentality to stay under control. That is something I have had to learn over the years.”

Although his 9-13 record in 2012 doesn’t sound very impressive, consider that he was pitching on a club that lost 101 games last year. Samardzija had a very respectable 3.81 ERA, which was a better indication of the type of pitcher he was.

“He was the most improved pitcher I saw last season,” said an American League scout. “This young man used to try muscle up on his fastball when things got tough. All of a sudden he is changing speeds on his pitches and tricking people in hitters’ counts. I give him and (pitching coach Chris ) Bosio all the credit for turning his game around. He has a chance to be a special pitcher now.”

Samardzija had a 2.58 ERA in his 11 starts after the All-Star game after posting a 4.71 ERA in his first 17 starts. He had a solid spring training, working mostly on his command and technique rather than worrying about his record.

Pressure is something that doesn’t seem to concern him. That said, he will be faced with the responsibility of leading a staff along with veterans Edwin Jackson and Scott Feldman until Garza and Baker return.

“When you have guys go down it has to be picked up somewhere else,” Samardzija said. “Mentally it is not that much different because you are approaching it the same way. If you are starting opening day you already have that label of being the horse on the team and carry the team.”

The Cubs are planning on Samardzija throwing at least 200 innings this season. He was shut down as a precaution in early September last year after 174.2 innings.