Samardzija Pleased with Double-A Debut

KODAK, Tenn. – Jeff Samardzija brought the heat for six innings in his debut for Double-A Tennessee on Monday evening. The right-hander's fastball regularly clocked in the upper 90s, and he held the hot-hitting Montgomery Biscuits to a single run.

The Biscuits had blistered the Smokies over the past three games entering the night, but Samardzija put a stop to that with six effective innings of six-hit ball. The 22-year-old Samardzija struck out two and walked two, surrendering only one run after facing 25 batters and throwing 78 pitches.

Samardzija had no trouble hitting the upper 90s on the radar gun to the delight of a pack of Notre Dame fans, who were all wearing green Irish t-shirts behind the Tennessee dugout Monday.

"I had a lot of good support there," Samardzija told reporters after the game. "Notre Dame travels real well and they always seem to be where you're at. It's good to have them backing you up."

Tennessee manager Pat Listach called the start a "glimpse of the future."

"I thought he threw the ball really well," Listach said of Samardzija. "He had a good two-seamer working. He threw strikes. He threw his changeup for strikes and got strikeouts when he needed them."

The first strikeout by Samardzija came in the first inning when he fanned the first batter he faced in leadoff hitter Fernando Perez, who had started Sunday's game with a 450-foot blast over the center field wall.

The second punch-out came in the sixth inning with two on base and with Patrick Breen at the plate. Breen had also gone deep on Sunday.

The Smokies (23-22, 4.5 GB) needed a win in the worst way possible Monday if they have any hopes of reaching the Southern League playoffs.

Samardzija left with a 5-1 lead, and the Smokies cruised to a 6-2 win behind relievers Matt Avery, who surrendered a solo home run; Mark Holliman; and Rocky Roquet, who picked up his fifth save since joining Tennessee.

Holliman's appearance out of the bullpen was a surprise, but Listach said it was done to keep the right-hander fresh before his next start.

"We didn't want him sitting for nine days without starting," Listach said. "He's going to go back into the rotation," and will likely pitch this Sunday.

The Smokies are off Tuesday and then will host the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx beginning Wednesday for five games.

"It was good to win the last one and kind of somewhat salvage it after losing three in a row," Listach added.

Samardzija was making his first start in Double-A after spending most of the summer with the Cubs' Class High-A affiliate in Daytona, where he posted a 3-8 record and 4.95 ERA. Neither the Cubs nor Samardzija were concerned about numbers coming into his debut for Tennessee.

"There is a difference, but you've just got to go out and adjust to it," Samardzija said of the adjustment from Single A to Double A batters.

"A lot of it is about how you go up and pitch, and it goes on from there. I felt like I got ahead in the count and had some good pitches and even when I did fall behind, I got some key outs," he said.

Samardzija was met with a contingent of broadcast and print media after the game. The crowd at Smokies Park swelled to 3,628 – a large number for a Monday game – with Notre Dame fans scattered throughout the stadium.

A certain first-round NFL draft pick, Samardzija opted for professional baseball after he was selected by the Cubs in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB draft. The Cubs paid him first-round money and then some in recognition of his talent with a five-year, $10 million contract back in January.

"I thought it felt pretty good," Samardzija said of his first Double-A outing. "Ball stayed down most of the game and I thought I had good control of the fastball and just kind of went from there."

He did have good movement on his heater and went to the fastball for the majority of his innings pitched. On the few occasions that Samardzija went off-speed, he was very effective.

He recorded nine fly outs and six groundouts. Montgomery had teed off on Tennessee pitching in the series, but Samardzija kept them in the ballpark.

"I had a good changeup, a couple of good sliders and kept the ball on the ground," he said. "I stayed out of trouble."

Samardzija is certainly familiar to Tennessee football fans. A wide receiver for the Irish, he was instrumental in Notre Dame's 41-21 win over the Vols in South Bend in 2005 when he stretched the field with his 6-foot-5 size and clutch receptions, including a 73-yard touchdown catch from Brady Quinn.

"I'm kind of interested to see him hit," Listach said. "He's a pretty good athlete so I want to see if he can hit. He's excited about hitting. We'll see him in Chattanooga (next week on the road). He'll get a chance to bat."

For now, Samardzija is looking to log some innings as his new team battles for a second half spot in the Southern League playoff race.

"It's a learning experience," Samardzija said. "You're down here getting your innings in in Minor League Baseball and learning what you can learn. I'm not too crazy about numbers. I know what I've learned and how much I've improved throughout the season, and that's the important part.

"I'm just trying to come in here and put together some good starts and get deep in innings to help the bullpen out and go from there," he added.

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