Jeff Samardzija was 5-3 with a 3.43 ERA in 12 starts with Triple-A Iowa. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Former Irish All-American Jeff Samardzija Eager To Make MLB Starting Debut

By Andrew Simon /

Aug. 12, 2009

CHICAGO – At least Jeff Samardzija doesn’t have to worry about tickets.

The Indiana native and former Notre Dame football player will make his first Major League start Wednesday, but the ticket requests that poured in from family and friends have all been handled. He set a limit and placed his brother in charge of the situation.

Samardzija has enough things to worry about anyway, such as facing the Phillies, who have the National League’s highest-scoring offense.

“I guess if there’s one way to start it off, this is the way to do it,” Samardzija said.

He faced the Phillies in Philadelphia on July 21, entering a 1-1 game in the 12th inning. Samardzija retired the side in order, then got two outs in the 13th before he walked Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez and surrendered a walk-off homer to Jayson Werth.

“Going through that lineup once or twice is a handful, so you’ve got to be on your game and be ready to go because they’ve got a lot of weapons in there,” Samardzija said. “But that’s all right. We’ve got a lot of weapons, too. So like I said, as long as I can get our offense back in the dugout, hopefully we can throw some runs up on the board and make it a nice game.”

In addition to all of the other pressures on Samardzija, the game will be nationally televised on ESPN and Pedro Martinez will be making his first start of the season and the 401st of his storied career. Samardzija was 7 years old when Martinez made his Major League debut with the Dodgers in 1992, and since then, Martinez has won 214 games.

“I’ve heard of him before,” Samardzija quipped, “so it should be pretty exciting.”

Since the Cubs selected Samardzija in the fifth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, he has pitched almost exclusively as a starter in the Minor Leagues. This season, he was 5-3 with a 3.43 ERA in 12 starts with Triple-A Iowa.

Samardzija posted a 2.28 ERA in 26 Major League relief appearances in 2008, but has a 6.29 mark in 16 games out of the bullpen this season. However, he felt good when he pitched four innings in Colorado on Friday.

“I think as the innings came along, all my pitches came around,” Samardzija said. “I thought I really used my fastball, and that allowed the changeup, splitter and curveball to come along, but mostly I went out and attacked.”

Manager Lou Piniella saw enough from Samardzija’s performance to move him into the rotation in place of the injured Carlos Zambrano.

“He threw the ball good the other day in Denver,” Piniella said. “Give the young man credit. He gave up a two-run homer to their catcher [Chris Iannetta], but outside of that, I thought he had good command and good velocity and he competed very well.”

As he transitions back to a starting role, Samardzija said he will spend more time preparing and studying his opponents on video. Because he will throw around 80 pitches in his first outing, he also will have more use for his changeup, which he used sparingly as a reliever.

No matter what he throws, Samardzija will have to find a way to improve on the 13-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.77 WHIP he sports this season. Not to mention, he will have to deal with all of the nerves.

“I’ll try to take a deep breath before that first pitch and really go out and pound the strike zone and see if we can really get deep in that game for the rest of the team,” Samardzija said.

Pitching matchup
CHC: RHP Jeff Samardzija (1-1, 6.29 ERA)
Samardzija has compiled a 1-1 record and a 6.29 ERA in 16 appearances for the Cubs spanning 24 1/3 innings. He faced the Phillies on the road on July 21, pitching 1 2/3 innings of extra-inning ball until losing the game on a three-run homer in the 13th.

PHI: RHP Pedro Martinez (0-0, -.– ERA)
Martinez, signed to a prorated $2 million contract last month, will make his Phillies debut. Jamie Moyer, whose 40 wins since 2006 leads the Phillies, has been moved to the bullpen. Martinez, 37, has not pitched in the Majors since last season with the Mets. He went 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA (seven earned runs in 12 1/3 innings) and 16 strikeouts in three Minor League rehab appearances.

Samardzija will be the ninth starting pitcher the Cubs have used this season. … Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley are the only Cubs who have faced Martinez more than 10 times. Soriano has hit .163 with no home runs in 43 at-bats, while Bradley has three hits and three walks in 13 plate appearances. No current Cub has a home run against Martinez. … Triple-A Iowa pounded Las Vegas, 16-8, on Monday. Matt Craig had a grand slam and five RBIs, while Brad Snyder went 2-for-5 with a home run to extend his hitting streak to 18 games. … Jay Jackson threw seven scoreless innings for Class A Daytona on Monday, giving up two hits and a walk, but the Cubs ultimately fell, 2-1, to Dunedin. … Center fielder Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round Draft pick, went 2-for-4 Monday to extend his hitting streak to five games, during which he was hitting .348.

— ND —