Jeff Samardzija ever optimistic about fresh start with White Sox

SHARE Jeff Samardzija ever optimistic about fresh start with White Sox

Jeff Samardzija might be the White Sox’ Opening Day starter if the injured Chris Sale can’t recover from a broken foot in time. | John Antonoff/For the Sun-Times

GLENDALE, Ariz. —  Blue sky, mid-70s,

gentle breeze. Noon in the winter desert.

If there were a hammock available, you’d take a nap.

But this is even better: The White Sox are playing their first intrasquad game of spring trainingTuesday, Skins vs. Shirts, with right-hander Jeff Samardzija on the mound for the Skins.

OK, Samardzija has a jersey on, No. 29. (This isn’t literal.) But what a thing it is to see the former Cub out there on the bump of dirt, looking in at catcher Tyler Flowers, his wild locks not quite as wild as in the past but still flowing out the back of his cap like a flap behind a trucker’s wheel.

Samardzija stares, cocks, throws. And we’re off.

The shaky bridge between the North Side and South Side has been traversed by a fellow who spent most of the first seven seasons of his career with the Cubs and now likely will be the No. 2 starter for the Sox.

It’s a bridge not often taken, even though ‘‘This Old Cub,’’ Ron Santo, played in 117 games for the Sox to end his career in 1974. (We probably shouldn’t even mention that.)

It’s not quite like moving from the Union to the Confederacy or from rap music to country, but this allegiance switch is edgy.

‘‘I think it’s just wild playing for both the teams, to tell you the truth,’’ Samardzija said after his two innings.

He allowed two hits in his 33 pitches, a flare single to leadoff man Micah Johnson, followed by a bunt single to Emilio Bonifacio. Both those Shirts stole bases and scored, but the second-inning batters went down 1-2-3.

Samardzija was jovial and practical, thrilled to have started the 2015 season on this fine day.

He spent the last half of last season with the Oakland Athletics, but that was just being an arm for hire. Now he’s a real Sox, a guy from 35th and Shields, not Clark and Addison.

Does he notice the different uniform?

‘‘l do, actually,’’ Samardzija said. ‘‘I look at the front and go from there. I’ve said many times it’s just an honor to have a big-league uniform on.’’

Raised in Merrillville, Indiana, Samardzija — who played college football at Notre Dame — is a Chicago-area guy.  Now he’s part of the club closer to his birthplace, and it will be interesting to see how Cubs fans greet him when he pitches against their team this season.

But the team is less important to him than being in the only club that matters: the major leagues.

‘‘I’m lucky to have had some ups and downs in my career, so you appreciate every chance you have to put [any uniform] on and represent it well,’’ he said. ‘‘Anytime you’re on the mound, you act like it’s your last time up there.’’

Here’s a wild possibility: Samardzija might be the Opening Day pitcher for the Sox this season after being the Opening Day pitcher for the Cubs last season. (He also was the Opening Day pitcher for the Cubs in 2013.)

This scheduling depends primarily on whether Sox ace Chris Sale can heal in time from his recently broken right ankle and avoid stepping in potholes, jumping out of pickup trucks or falling down rabbit holes for the rest of spring training. Lefties, you’ll recall, are somewhat unknowable.

‘‘He’s young, goofy and everything else,’’ manager Robin Ventura said of Sale.

Samardzija isn’t that, for sure. Only his hair is nuts.

His career stats are misleading, too. At 30, he could have a stellar record if teammates ever supported him with runs. Instead, he’s a measly 36-48.

Do the math on this: In 2014 with the Cubs, he posted an excellent 2.83 ERA and was an All-Star. And he was 2-7 before being traded to the A’s.

So kicking things off with the talented Sox looks like blue sky for Samardzija.

‘‘Just the first blush of seeing him out there and his competitiveness, it carries over to everybody,’’ Ventura said.

Samardzija was asked if he knew much about Ventura before joining the Sox.

‘‘On baseball cards,’’ he said.

But he likes Ventura’s calm, businesslike approach.

‘‘He’s my type of guy, for sure,’’ Samardzija said.

And he loved getting back in the saddle on this beautiful Tuesday.

‘‘Just to be in that setting for getting back into your normal routine, fixing your glove and hat, cleaning your cleats — you get back to all these ticks you’re used to in your comfort zone,’’ Samardzija said. ‘‘It felt good.’’

So did one pitch in particular.

‘‘Yeah, my fastball,’’ he said. ‘‘In camp, you’re always waiting for that one day when you go out and go, ‘Whoa, there it is!’ You’re trying to build up that strength, and you never know what part of the month it’s going to be. Luckily, when I wanted more, there was more there today.’’

How much more? How fast?

‘‘Sitting 98, 99 [mph], you know,’’ Samardzija said, almost chuckling.

Then, in a near-whisper, ‘‘Touching 100.’’

You bet. Let the good times roll.


Twitter: @ricktelander

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