Ventura names Samardzija to start White Sox opener

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Jeff Samardzija made the last two Opening Day starts for the Cubs, allowing no runs over 15 innings against the Pirates. (AP)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Manager Robin Ventura made it official Wednesday, naming right-hander Jeff Samardzija to be the White Sox Opening Day starter.

Samardzija, who pitched the last two Opening Days for the Cubs, will pitch his first game in a Sox uniform on April 6 against the Royals at Kansas City.

“Samardzija’s going to be the Opening Day starter,” Ventura said. “We’re going to have Jeff open the season and have Q [Jose Quintana] right behind him.”

The right-hander who came from the A’s in a trade during the Sox’ eventual winter meetings has been lined up on his spring training work schedule to be first for the Sox ever since ace Chris Sale went down with an injury. He had been pegged to fit between lefties Sale and  Quintana, who was Ventura’s second choice.

“I know it’s a surprise,” Ventura said tongue-in-cheek. “It’s an honor for guys to do that and Jeff has done it before. Bringing him over here was part of the reason for doing that. Chris was going to be the guy, if it’s not him it’s going to be Jeff.

“He’s ready to go. He’s up for it. It would have been great for Q to do it, too, but the way we’re lined up is Jeff go first and Q second.”

Samardzija had already left the Sox complex at Camelback Ranch and wasn’t available for comment.

“It’s a little different because it’s the first one right?” he said Tuesday when talking about pitching on Opening Day. “You’re not in midseason form but the spotlight is so bright you need to be in midseason form, so in that sense it’s a little weird. Pittsburgh does a great job with Opening Day so in that sense it was fun.”

Samardzjia has allowed nine earned runs and four homers over 11 1/3 Cactus League innings this spring but has shrugged off the results of spring training games. His next start is Thursday against the Cubs, who drafted him and kept him in their organization till last season’s trade to the Oakland A’s.

The Sox acquired Samardzija, who is eligible for free agency after the season, knowing they might have him for one season, but they made it clear early on they hope to sign him to an extension. The Sox avoided arbitration and signed him to a one-year, $9.8 million contract.

Between the Cubs and A’s in 2014, Samardzija had an All-Star season, posting a 2.99 ERA. He is 36-48 with a 3.85 ERA in 222 career outings covering 99 starts.

Sale, meanwhile, threw a bullpen session Wednesday as he works his way back to action. Sale has started the last two openers for the Sox but the lefthander suffered an avulsion fracture and ankle sprain to his right foot on Feb. 27. He is slated to throw a simulated game Friday and to pitch in gamelike conditions on April 1 and 6.  That could be anything from a simulated game, minor league game or perhaps a Cactus League game April 1. He could return to the Sox as soon as April 12, pitching coach Don Cooper said Tuesday.

Samardzija would be the first pitcher to start for the Cubs and Sox in consecutive years since Jaime Navarro did it in 1996 and ’97.


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