Fall is an awkward time for Jeff Samardzija even in the best of times, as football kicks in around the former Notre Dame wide receiver.
But it is especially awkward now that baseball pitcher Samardzija doesn’t even have his chosen pro sport to play.
“It’s totally tough,” he said Sunday, a week after his final start of the season, an outstanding 4-3 complete game victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates. “You get in a routine and your body knows when it’s ready to go.
“It’s hard watching real competition going on and not participating.”
The decision to shut down Samardzija at 175 innings and after 28 starts in his first full season in the rotation was a choice made by the new Cubs hierarchy.
But Samardzija made the most of that time (9-13, 3.81 ERA, 180 strikeouts to 56 walks) to make a strong impression on team president Theo Epstein.
“He’s been a big development positive for us,” Epstein said last week. “I’m really proud of Jeff. He made the decision on what he wanted to accomplish. He had a plan. He set a clear goal for himself and executed it. It’s really impressive the way he developed.
“He moved into the forefront of our plans.”
The end of 2012 continues to be about plans for 2013, with several players making cases for themselves in Sunday’s dramatic 13-9 comeback victory against Pittsburgh.
Anthony Rizzo’s six-RBI day that included his first career grand slam “was spectacular,” manager Dale Sveum said, and he singled out pitcher Jaye Chapman’s work in the seventh when he gave up a leadoff triple to Starling Marte–but got him as the third out in a rundown play.
For Samardzija, what’s left of the season has become a head start on his off-season preparation.
He still is part of the team, with Sveum calling upon him to pinch run in the ninth inning Saturday as the Cubs threatened a comeback before falling 7-6.
And Samardzija showed the same zeal running to take his place at second representing the winning run. “With two outs, it would be an easy situation–you go on contact.”
But pinch running is probably all he will do in the last two weeks.
“Hopefully we have enough guys [to pinch hit],” Sveum said with a laugh. “Let him know it would be Travis Wood [a home run and three doubles] or even Chris Rusin [a triple] before [Samardzija.]”
Indeed, if there were something left for the 6-5 right-hander to prove this year, it would be that he could get an extra base hit.
He’s the only one of the original starters without one.
But batting practice isn’t really part of his routine anymore.
“I do the same things I did before, except the fifth day is vacant,” he said. “Playing catch, working out. I’m just trying to stay ready.
“There are a lot of young guys here, so you try to be available for them every time you can,” he said. “I still feel I’m part of this team. You try to pay attention as much as you can because there’s always something to learn.”
But there are moments when the television cameras may catch him with a far-away look–“like a little puppy dog at the window when the owner leaves,” he admitted.
“This has just pushed my off-season [routine] up a month early,” he said.
Next season will be a full six months of pitching as far as he is concerned.
“Absolutely,” he said of shedding the innings limit. “There should be no chains whatsoever next year.”