Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs Opening Day Starter

Jeff Samardzija - Chicago Cubs Opening Day Starter
Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija (29) throws during spring training camp at Finch Park. (Photo – Rick Scuteri / USA TODAY Sports)

Former Notre Dame All-American wide receiver Jeff Samardzija’s decision to pursue a career in baseball over football continues to look like a wise decision seven years later after the Notre Dame great was named the opening day starter for the Chicago Cubs over the weekend.

Samardzija successfully converted to a starting pitcher last year after spending the first six years of his professional career as a reliever.  After a few bumps along the way, Samardzija had a strong second half before getting shut down in September because of an innings restriction placed on him by the coaching staff.

During the 2012 season Samardzija put together a 9-13 record in 28 starts with a 3.81 ERA.  In those starts Samardzija pitched a total of 174 2/3 innings after never notching more than 88 innings in any single season previously.  With the extended work, Samardzija also recorded a career high strikeouts per 9 innings mark of 9.28.

Samardzija’s ’12 season was capped off with his first career complete game – a 9 inning, 4 hit outing during which he struck out 9 Pirates while walking just one.

Heading into Spring Training, Samardzija was set to battle with Matt Garza for the top spot in the Cubs rotation.  Garza is set to start the season on the DL now though leaving Samardzija as the #1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation as the season starts.

“For what he did his last eight starts, he is a guy you want out there.  He is a guy players rally around because of his work ethic. He has that bulldog mentality. This was a very obvious choice,” said Cubs manager Dale Sveum.

Seven years ago Samardzija shocked many by selecting a career in baseball even though many projected him as a first round draft pick after he rewrote the Notre Dame receiving record books during the 2005 season.  Michael Floyd has since captured many of Samardzija’s records, but the Indiana native was still set to be a high draft pick had he selected football.  Instead, Samardzija picked baseball and now starts his second season as a starting pitcher atop the Cubs rotation.

Since joining the Cubs organization, Samardzija experienced plenty of ups and downs before finally sticking with them as a starter last year.  Until then, the 5 year, $10 million contract he signed in 2007 looked like a bad deal for Chicago, but now it looks more like a steal for a #1 starting pitcher.

”I went through some humbling baseball experience in `09 and `10. It put a lot of things in perspective,” said Samardzija.  “I’m excited. The best thing as an athlete is to see all your hard work lead to positive gains from it. You get some taste of success and you want to keep that rolling. That’s where I am right now.”

Chicago has an option for 2013 for Samardzija, but if he establishes himself as a clear top of the rotation pitcher for the Cubbies this year, he could be in line for a nice extension this off-season.  At age 28, Samardzija still has a lot fo years left at the major league level too.


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  1. I’m kind of nitpicking here, but Samardzija was a starting pitcher almost exclusively in the minor leagues for the first four-and-a-half years of his career. If it wasn’t for the Cubs jerking him around between the AAA rotation and the major league bullpen from 2009 to 2011, he probably would have developed into a front-end starter a year or two earlier.

    He actually had pitched significant innings before when you look at minor league numbers: 141 innings in 2007, 140 in 2008 (113 minors/27 majors), 123 in 2009 (89/34), 130 in 2010 (111/19). Those aren’t the workloads of a full major league season as a starter, but they’re good minor league workloads and plenty to build off of. Again, had they just let him develop as a starter, he wouldn’t have needed an innings cap to stretch him back out in 2012 after only 88 innings (all in relief) in 2011.

    So long as they don’t mess with him too much, he should establish himself this year. Even the brief struggles he had last year were easily linked to the organization trying to get him to develop a curveball in the middle of the season and use his splitter (which is easily his best pitch) less. It’s fine to develop another pitch, but the time to do it is in spring training, not in June.

    He’s a great competitor. I’m convinced that if they just let him do his thing, he’ll be something special out there.

  2. His baseball career seems to be moving in the right direction, where his football career would possibly be winding down. He could pitch another 10 years in the Majors, making tons of money. If he’d played pro football where contracts are not guaranteed, he might be watching the games on tv. Good, no great choice for the x-ND great! Good Luck!

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