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Samardzija happy to show pitching progress at Iowa
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff

Jeff Samardzija


Associated Press

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Published: 8/26/2010 2:56 PM

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DES MOINES, Iowa - Some people get to their destinations via the straight line.

Others take the roundabout.

Jeff Samardzija isn't there yet, but he's definitely taking the roundabout way of getting back to the major leagues.

Samardzija is pitching for the Cubs' Class AAA Iowa team, and he's working again as a starter after opening this season in the big club's bullpen.

Heading into Thursday night's start at Omaha, Samardzija was 10-2 with a 3.14 ERA in 32 games, 12 starts, in the minor leagues.

When he went to Iowa on April 14, he wasn't happy, and he went back as a reliever. Things have settled at long last, and if all goes well he could get a start or two for the Cubs in September.

"Definitely 'roundabout' is a good word to throw in there, but in this sport, you've got to persevere, and you've got to stick through the hard times," said Samardzija, a celebrated football star at Notre Dame before the Cubs gave him a multiyear contract to stay with baseball. "When you look at the whole picture, you're a better player for it.

"Your No. 1 goal is helping the big-league team out any way you can, and that's why I've never had any problem pitching out of the pen. (Starting is) just more of a comfort level for me and what I've done my whole life. It just feels more natural for me."

Samardzija was beaten out for a starting job in spring training, and when he went to Iowa, he had an 0-1 record and an 18.90 ERA in 4 relief appearances.

The Cubs kept Samardzija in the pen for a while at Iowa, and ironically it may have helped him.

"When I first got sent down, I was (ticked)," he admitted earlier this week. "I came and grabbed the ball and was letting a lot of emotions out. I talked to Mase (Iowa pitching coach Mike Mason) a lot about, 'Where do we start? Where do we go from here?' I was just trying to find an identity. We worked a couple different pitches in that we've been throwing, and that helped out a lot.

"I came down here, cleared the slate, pitched in relief. I pitched strictly out of the stretch for probably a month in relief. I tell you what, it paid dividends, especially as a starter. You have something to lean back on when a guy gets on base."

Although he watched as other pitchers got the call to Wrigley Field, Samardzija wanted to avoid a situation like last year, when he had three separate stints with the Cubs.

"I talked to Jim, and I talked to everybody," he said, referring to general manager Jim Hendry. "We didn't want to do what we did last year. We didn't want to go up and down. We didn't want it to be a roller-coaster ride. Are we paying for it a little now? Absolutely.

"I didn't have plans of just pitching for the Cubs for a year or two years. For me, this is a long-term decision, and there's no other place that I want to be - ever - to tell you the truth. You take your licks now, and you learn from them."

Having added a cutter to his repertoire, which includes a fastball that tickles the high 90s (mph), Samardzija has progressed as a pitcher.

"He's made a great deal of progress," said Iowa manager Ryne Sandberg. "He's really come along with his command and his pitching. He's done a real good job working on mechanics here. I think he's headed back to the major leagues with the way he's developed here this year.

"His command is better. He's pitching ahead in the count, and he has a better idea what he's doing with his pitches. His breaking pitches have gotten better, but his fastball has gotten better with location and throwing strikes. The other thing I like about him is he's very, very competitive, and he's like a bulldog out there."

Perspective is a must when talking about Samardzija. Even though he signed a five-year, $10 million contract in 2007, he went into Thursday's start with just 5341/3 professional innings of pitching since being drafted in 2006.

But because the results haven't been there yet, those questions about football just won't go away.

Samardzija says he's a baseball player to stay.

"You miss Sundays, Saturdays, whatever game day, you're going to miss it," he said of football. "I made my decision for the right reasons. It wasn't for anything but for what I love to do and I want to do every day in a place I want to do it and do it for a long time. If you make decisions based on a good foundation like that, nothing's going to change.

"Obviously, I watch it (football). I know what I can do here, and for me that's what ways keeps me driven. To tell you the truth, to go play football and end on what I've done so far in baseball wouldn't be satisfying. My whole life, I'd have to look back and see what I did, and I wouldn't be happy with it.

"People ask all the time. I'm 25 now, going to be 26 - you just couldn't do it. I love the sport; I love football. But there's something about baseball that has me hooked. I plan doing it for a long time, and hopefully, in one spot."

Turning the corner?

Pitcher Jeff Samardzija opened the season in the Cubs' bullpen before being sent to Class AAA Iowa on April 24. He eventually joined Iowa's starting rotation, and he has enjoyed success. Here are his numbers entering Thursday's start at Omaha:

Games: 32

Starts: 12

Record: 10-2

ERA: 3.14

WHIP: 1.27

Innings: 942/3

Hits: 64

Earned runs: 33

Walks: 56

Strikeouts: 86