In the final two months of last season, the right-hander compiled a 1.26 ERA, giving up four earned runs over 28 2/3 innings. But he was pitching in relief then. Can he be a starter?
"That's going to be the million-dollar question in Spring Training," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said on Thursday. "Against live hitters [on Thursday], he threw the heck out of the ball and had great command, which he has every time. It's going to be an interesting decision later this month."
The competition for the final spots on the roster begins in earnest on Friday, when the Cubs play the first of two intrasquad games at HoHoKam Park. Cactus League action starts on Sunday, when the Cubs face the Athletics at 2:05 p.m. CT.
Samardzija arrived early to Arizona to get used to the weather and throwing off dirt mounds, rather than pitching inside off a plastic mound in Chicago.
"I wanted to carry that momentum I had at the end of the year last year into this year," he said. "I think I've done that. I'm very happy with how I threw today. I'm really champing at the bit to get these games going."
The difference is that Samardzija's command is better, and he's more aggressive with his command.
"I started bringing my cutter back in that I had two years ago when I was starting [at Triple-A] Iowa," Samardzija said. "It's understanding that, as a starter, I want these guys to put my ball in play early and I want to pitch deep in games. An emphasis on command. As a reliever, you come in and you can throw as hard as you want and get away with that. But as a starter, I want low effort and get a lot of action early in the count."
He's got some competition. Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza and Paul Maholm are set for the Cubs' rotation -- with Samardzija competing with Randy Wells, Chris Volstad, Travis Wood, Andy Sonnanstine and Casey Coleman, among others, for the final two spots.