Samardzija makes his pitch for rotation

Jeff Samardzija was much improved last season, compiling a 2.97 ERA in 75 games. AP Photo/Morry Gash

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For the first time in his five seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Jeff Samardzija appears to have a legitimate chance to win a spot in the starting rotation.

”This is a big chance for me to prove I can be a starting pitcher in the major leagues,” Samardzija said. “Commanding my pitches, attacking the zone and keeping my stuff down is the key.”

Samardzija made an early statement in his first start of the spring Wednesday, allowing one hit with three strikeouts over three scoreless innings against the Kansas City Royals.

"It was kind of like pitching at Wrigley with that wind so to have a day like that was nice," Samardzija said. "I’m right where I want to be now."

Called by many scouts the most improved pitcher in baseball last season, Samardzija, 27, was outstanding in the bullpen last season with eight wins and a 2.97 ERA in 75 games. Shuffled in and out of the starting rotation in the minor leagues since he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 draft out of Notre Dame, Samardzija said the role wasn't ideal.

"With all due respect, it might not have been the best route," said Samardzija, who has just five starts in his 128 major league games. "It was a necessary route at the time. The guys who were here had to win at that time in '08 and '09. We were trying to win. If they thought me being in the bullpen was the best thing for the us then that’s the way it was going to go. People forget we are just pawns here."

Samardzija knows he has a battle on his hands this spring to find a home in the rotation.

Samardzija will have to beat out at least two other pitchers in order to win a spot. Randy Wells, Travis Wood and Chris Volstad are also in the mix for the fourth and fifth slots.

”We have a strong group of guys in camp fighting for a couple of slots,” Samardzija said. “That’s not going to stop me from pushing forward.”

Samardzija has been training in Mesa since November, and Cubs manager Dale Sveum has been impressed by what he has seen.

“The way he is commanding his pitches, I don’t think I remember anyone this early in spring pin-pointing his breaking stuff this soon,” Sveum said.