When the golden boy took the mound yesterday he must have felt right at home, what with the golden dome of the Iowa statehouse beyond the center-field wall and the Notre Dame fight song blaring over the PA system conjuring flashbacks of his alma mater.
Six innings and 101 pitches later Jeff Samardzija left having made another tentative promise on his well-financed junket through the bush leagues to the big-time.
He surrendered only one run despite walking six and recorded his first AAA win in his second start at that level.
If his dues-paying teammates resent his gilded glide through the system you wouldn't have known it by watching Koyie Hill throw out two base stealers or Luis Figueroa snuff out another threat by going way out of his way to snare a ball on the inskirts of CF and throw out the guy who hit it there.
Samardzija [I spelled it that time without looking it up] was also helped by a viagran breeze blowing straight in from LF @ 20 MPH. It caught one ball smoked to left-center and blew foul another that was thumped well beyond the RF fence.
Over the course of his season-and-a-half in pro ball the kid the Cubs lured from the NFL has now made 43 starts covering 229 innings. He's surrendered 257 hits and walked 94 while fanning 118. Not exactly glittering results.
Still, having now witnessed the most recent six of those innings I get why the Cubs got Samardzija.
First of all, he's imposing on the mound at 6'5" and 220. When he gets in jams he pitches like he's playing football. Case in point: Yesterday he faced Dallas McPherson in the top of the third protecting a 2-1 lead. McPherson leads all of pro baseball this year with 28 homers and just this weekend had a string of seven straight games with a homer snapped. To that point Samardzija hadn't topped 91 on the scoreboard speedometer. The sixth pitch of what ended as an eight-pitch strikeout registered 94 [scouts at Principal Park have told me that their guns consistently register 2-3 mph's faster than the ballpark's].
After looking like a prop at the plate in his first two AB's, Samardzija came up with the bases loaded in the fifth and got interested, slicing a sharp single to right through a drawn-in infield.
In short, the guy clearly likes to compete.
He threw first-pitch strikes to only 14 of the 24 hitters he faced. He only had one inning where he retired three straight. But his arm is lively and, money no longer being a concern, he seems to care mostly about winning. McPherson, a one-time phenom himself, was quoted in the local paper this morning as saying that Samardzija's fastball and splitter are both big-league caliber.
Once they're thrown as accurately as the Brady Quinn passes Samardzija used to catch, that's where he'll be throwing them, I suspect.
ALSO: His two RBI's yesterday give Micah Hoffpauir 26 in only 22 games with the I-Cubs this year...Figueroa almost suffered an improbable injury when he emerged from the dugout to lead-off in the bottom of the 2nd and was nearly run down by the golf cart the hot dog gunner was riding in...as a p.s. to AZ Phil's Pie post yesterday, I got to interview Felix once last year not long after he was sent back from his first taste of the 'bigs'. It was a rainy morning on a weekday with a matinee scheduled. An I-Cub official escorted me to a players' lounge area of the full, bustling clubhouse where I waited for Felix, apparently the last of the team to arrive. When he did he was sullen and practically non-communicative until the subject of his buddy Alfonso Soriano came up. Later our chat was interrupted by the team official who had to inform Felix why his rental car had been towed after he parked it smack dab in front of his downtown hotel late the previous evening and where he would have to go to get it back. It didn't sound like anybody was going to go get it for him which surprised me at the time. As for his general demeanor and tardiness to the ballpark, I was inclined to chalk them up as natural for a kid with his background in a strange place where the language too was unfamiliar. Given all the whispers going around Chicago media this spring about Pie's bad case of 'big-leagueitis', I have to wonder now...MW