Walks have been Samardzija's Achilles heel. In 76 innings with the Smokies, he issued 42 bases on balls and gave up 71 hits, but the 23-year-old power pitcher has brought his ERA down by over a point in his last seven starts.
Samardzija received a five-year, $10 million major league contract in January, 2007, from the Cubs. He was a two-time All-American wide receiver at Notre Dame and was believed to be a first-round NFL draft pick had he entered the draft.
Samardzija set single-season school records in 2005 for receiving yards (1,249) and touchdown receptions (15), and then set the mark for most catches in a season (78) in 2006. He finished as the all-time Notre Dame leader in receiving yards with 2,593.
Did the call-up fit in with any personal timetable you had?
JEFF SAMARZIJA: I don't know. I'm excited to make another step toward the big leagues. I'm just looking to continue how I've been pitching the last handful of times out and keep going deep in the games; keep making strides with all my pitches and trying not to walk guys, which has kind of been … when I've gotten in trouble this year, that's been the reasoning. Just stay consistent on the mound, and whatever happens after that, happens.
On re-establishing his control after struggling in late-April, May:
SAMARDZIJA: My first year when I was down in Daytona last year, it was kind of the same thing [that] happened. I came out of spring training, out of big league camp and came out with a lot of excitement, feeling well and I kind of hit a lull. But the difference between this year and last year was that it kept going last year. It extended for about a month or so, maybe a month and a half and this year it was two or three starts.
I got out of it a little bit; I was walking a lot of guys and I came out and my fourth start, you know, kind of in that stretch and said that was enough. I came out and had a great outing and kind of turned the page quickly. So you learn a lot and you learn how to bounce back from things. And I think this year has been a big thing for me to just get out there after those five days and turn the page.
Talk about how you got called up. Did you talk to anybody from the front office about the situation?
SAMARDZIJA: I don't know. It was just… like I said, after I kind of had about three outings there where I was walking four, five or six guys, I came out in June and just pitched well. I was going six, seven innings in the games, only walking one or two, striking out four, five or six and just giving our team a chance to win. As a starting pitcher, that's really all you can do. I continued that and I felt good my first start here in Triple-A, so we're going to keep it rolling and see what happens.
Dennis Lewallyn described you as being in the infancy of your professional career. Do you agree with that?
SAMARDZIJA: Yeah, just numbers wise, you kind of have to agree with it. I probably only have about 200 to 275 innings pitching in professional baseball. So although I've been playing the game a long time, I don't think I have just the actual hours that a lot of guys have, especially if it's Double-A, Triple-A, or anywhere. But that's the thing I put on my shoulders; to be a quick learner. I really push myself to go out there and play at a level like I have been playing for a long time. But like I said, though, I'm always learning something and I'm always picking up anything I can to make that process faster.
You're set up here and back into the spotlight. Do you feel any pressure?
SAMARDZIJA It's been like that so far, so ... I don't really take the pressure. I think all the pressure for me comes from just wanting to go out and play for your teammates who have been here all year and have been playing hard and are in first place. You just want to keep that going for them. You don't want to let those guys down.
You know, (there's) not any outside pressure, whether it's in the media or just from family and friends. It's just kind of more for fun more than anything else. It just kind of keeps me on my toes, but really you just want to go out and play well for your teammates and your manager, and just win for them. That's what it's all about.
Everybody seems to know about your fastball already. How is your secondary stuff coming along?
SAMARDZIJA: It's coming along real well. I think going back onto your other question about being moved up, I think that has a lot to do with it. I've been throwing my other three pitches [changeup, slider, sinker] for strikes and that's kind of been the biggest thing. They haven't just been show pitches; they've been for a reason, and I kind of feel confident. Obviously, I love my sinker and I go to that a lot of times, but my confidence in my other pitches is just up there with my sinker now, which helps me out on the mound and helps me go deeper in the games.
You're a blogger. Why do you do it? Is it for the fans?
SAMARDZIJA: It's not even really for anything; it's just kind of for fun. Me and my brother kind of set it up a couple years back and it's just a good way – there's a lot of down time in the game. It's just kind of a way to stay in the moment kind of thing. You talk about some things that are going on around you and some things that are happening to you, and it just kind of keeps your mind on what you're doing. At times, it can take [your mind] off it if you need to.