GLENDALE, Ariz. – Jeff Samardzija in a White Sox uniform? Now there’s a sight that might not look right to a Cubs fan. Even Samardzija himself, who put on Sox black and greys for the first time when pitchers and catchers had their first workouts of spring training, may be doing a double take if he sees his reflection.
“You have to catch yourself sometimes,’’ Samardzija said Friday after throwing his first official bullpen session of the spring. “You have to take a second and get an idea of where you’re at, and the surroundings, and take it all in.’’
The Cubs’ and Sox’ ways, means, cultures and fan bases are far removed in so many ways. Samardzija, a Sox fan as a kid growing up in northwest Indiana who became a Cub as a pro, has come home in a way to a team that is brimming with confidence in large part because of his presence, even if it is for one season.
The Sox are high on his ability and mentality and love how he fits perfectly between lefties Chris Sale and Jose Quintana to form a top-three in the rotation that compares with the best in baseball.
“On paper we have everything we need to win. It’s about us proving it every day in and day out,’’ Samardzija said.
“Nobody won the offseason. Nobody played any games in the offseason. All we did was put together a heck of a squad that needs to come together as a team, come early this season and start fast and really set the tone early in the year.’’
The Sox have till their season opener April 6 in Kansas City to get their arms in shape and their swings in place. They’ll use the time to get acclimated with so many new faces, but that part shouldn’t take long, Samardzija said.
“It will be quicker with this team because there are so many veteran guys who know the big picture, which is about winning games,’’ Samardzija said.
“I have to get to know [Adam] LaRoche, for example, but from playing against him and the type of guy he is I know he’s the kind of guy I want on my team. From that aspect it’s easy. ”
Samardzija and Sale have that same grinder-type makeup that vice president Ken Williams says he can’t get enough of. Samardzija says he doesn’t worry about stats, that all that matters is the drive to get better and who is enjoying a victory beer after the game.
“You’re content in a way, but in a way you’re not,’’ he said. “You stay hungry and keep trying to get better.’’
Since the Sox traded for Samardzija in December and expressed hopes of signing him to a long-term deal – he will earn $9.8 million this year and becomes a free agent after the season – nothing has changed.
“Not unless you have something to report to me,” he said when asked about extension talks.
“In terms of any progress or reports on that,” general manager Rick Hahn said, “we’re not going to discuss publicly. We’re going to keep all that internal as we have with other high-profile free agents, many of whom we’ve been able to work things out with behind the scenes.’’
Because he didn’t pitch a whole lot in college at Notre Dame, Samardzija’s arm would seem to have fewer miles on it than most 30-year-olds, just one more bullet point for his agent to add to the resume come free agency.
“Without a doubt,’’ Samardzija said.
“The way I have felt at the end of these seasons the last couple of years has been lights out and I was begging for another start at the end of the year last year [with Oakland] and it didn’t happen. I’m going to keep attacking and I want to throw more innings and keep working. I threw 219 innings last year, I want to throw 225-230 this year and just keep improving.’’