Cubs

Levine: Cubs’ Samardzija Works Toward Opening Day Start

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Jeff Samardzija. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Jeff Samardzija. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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By Bruce Levine-

(CBS) Despite trade rumors and a less-than-efficient outing on Wednesday, right-hander Jeff Samardzija continues to look forward to an Opening Day start for the Cubs.

Samardzija had a few command issues in his start against the Rockies on Wednesday in allowing three runs on four hits, a walk and a hit batsman in three innings, but he felt the end result was positive.

“This is spring training, so your arm takes a little longer to warm up,” Samardzija said. “I felt good. A few pitches were up that got me in trouble. I felt really good.”

One National League scout believes that Samardzija will be a big winner with a better team behind him, and he’s a candidate to be traded this summer after only signing a one-year deal in the offseason.

“He proved last season he can handle the workload,” the scout said before referring to Samardzija’s 5.50 ERA after the All-Star break last season. “Now it is a question of getting the ball down in the zone and staying away from those two- and three-run innings in the second half of the season.”

In Samardzija’s defense, 2013 was the first time he was extended out beyond 175 innings, as he threw 214. During the early part of his career, he was shuffled back and forth between the bullpen and starting roles due to former manager Lou Pinella’s need of a hard-throwing relieve.

The 29-year-old Samardzija feels some pressure to be the leading pitcher on the team as well as a positive clubhouse leader.

“When you are younger, you don’t realize the pressure,” he said. “It is kind of a young and dumb thing because you don ‘t realize the severity of the situation. I am definitely going into the season trying to be ready for Opening Day and really working toward that. I want to hit the season running. A strong start for a team always helps out your season.”

Asked if he was told he is the Opening Day starter, Samardzija said, “I don’t know.”

“But that is what I am preparing for,” he said.

Samardzija and Travis Wood appear to be the two competing for the Opening Day slot. Samardzija got the nod last year.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said on Thursday he would likely name his Opening Day starter after the middle of the month.

Renteria would not confirm that Samardzija and Wood are the only pitchers being considered to open the 2014 season on the mound for the Cubs in Pittsburgh.

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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