"I've gone through some humbling baseball experiences in '09 and '10 that puts a lot of things into perspective," Samardzija said Sunday. "I'm excited. I've said this before, just the best thing as an athlete is all your hard work, you see positive gains from it. It gets you to keep working hard and keep improving. You get a little taste of success and you want that to keep going. I feel that's where I'm at now and I want to keep the ball rolling."
Samardzija, 28, who was a full-time starter for the first time in 2012, threw a compete-game victory over the Pirates in his last outing Sept. 8. He knew that was his final game of the season because the Cubs had set an innings limit.
"I thought that was a big start," Samardzija said. "I thought the most important start last year was the Atlanta start. I didn't have a good June, but if you look at from that Atlanta start on, it progressively got better every time out and culminated with that Pittsburgh game.
"That's been the roll I've been going on and I want to keep the momentum going," he said. "It's funny we start back in Pittsburgh and I look forward to it."
The start in Atlanta was July 2 when he gave up one run on four hits and struck out 11 over seven innings. Samardzija finished the season 4-6 with a 2.58 ERA in 13 games.
"He's a guy who players rally around because of his work ethic, his bulldog mentality when he's on the mound," Sveum said. "It's a very obvious choice, really."
The right-hander has come a long way from his days as an All-America wide receiver at Notre Dame. In 2009 and '10, he was primarily a reliever, and spent more time in the Minor Leagues than with the big league team. It wasn't clear at that time what his future would be.
"He's that guy -- it's game on when he's pitching that day," Sveum said. "The other four days, he's a starting pitcher who doesn't sit around for four days. He's into every game, and picking his teammates up. He's fallen into that leadership role as well."
Samardzija and Sveum met the day the Cubs formally hired the manager in November 2011. The pitcher just happened to be at Wrigley Field that day. They hit it off immediately.
"Me and Dale were on the same page from Day One with what we wanted," Samardzija said. "We didn't want any personal accolades, we just want to win ballgames. That is it. It doesn't matter when you pitch, or where you pitch or what the lineup is. I felt that from him when I met him at Wrigley the day he was hired. It's a good thing to have. There's no drama, you just go out and play ball."
Samardzija finished 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA in 28 starts, totaling a career-high 174 2/3 innings. He's not looking ahead to starting on Opening Day 2014 just yet.
"I'm not taking anything for granted in this game," he said. "You don't want to look ahead to the next year or the year after that. All you can do is look ahead to the next start next week, just because nothing's in stone. You just have to have fun doing what you do and go start to start and go from there. I'm really ready to get this season going, to tell you the truth."