By David Schuster-

MESA, Ariz. (CBS) —  It only seems like Jeff Samardzija has been around forever.

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In fact, he has been with the Cubs for only four years and this is the last of a five-year deal that Jim Hendry signed him to out of Notre Dame. Samardzija has been used almost exclusively out of he bullpen but has always thirsted to be a starter and it looks like he’ll get that opportunity here during spring training.

Samardzija is coming off his best season as a professional notching eight wins in 2011 to go along with an era of 2.97. All of his appearances were out of the pen but new Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Samardzija will compete for the starting rotation and that’s music to his ears.

“Yeah, that’s exciting,” the pitcher said. “I’ve been working out here in Arizona for four months now working for just that. This is what I’ve always wanted to do and that’s all that has been on my mind since the end of last season. I don’t have too many hobbies right now or other things on the side. It’s all about baseball for me and that’s all I’m worrying about.”

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As for the new regime giving him a shot to make the rotation, Samardzija is appreciative of the opportunity but he knows what it boils down to.

“It’s all up to me,” he said. “They may be giving me the chance but they’re not handing me the job. That’s up to me to go out and earn it. I want to put no doubt in their mind that pitching me every fifth day is what’s best for this team and I can prove that by having a good spring training.”

It will still be an uphill climb for Samardzija to make the starting five, but he will get his shot. At the moment, Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster are the only two locks with Randy Wells, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm seemingly ahead for spots 3-5. Reporters had to ask Samardzija if he would be OK going back to the pen if things didn’t work out as a starter and Samardzija responded: “That’s the worst question I’ve ever heard.”

He was only half kidding but the focus on his face tells you that starting for the Cubs this season means everything to him.

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For more spring training coverage from Mesa, Ariz, click here. Find all of David Schuster’s spring training blogs here and follow him on Twitter (@schumouse).