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Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija’s a pace horse

Through four starts this seasJeff Samardzijis pace for more than 190 innings. Last year he threw 88 innings all relief.

Through four starts this season, Jeff Samardzija is on pace for more than 190 innings. Last year, he threw 88 innings, all in relief. | Dilip Vishwanat~Getty Images

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TONIGHT

CUBS at PHILLIES

The facts: 6:05, CSN, 720-AM.

The pitchers: Paul Maholm (1-2, 8.36 ERA) vs. Roy Halladay (3-1, 1.50 ERA).

Updated: May 28, 2012 9:12AM



The Cubs don’t have much to show for the first three weeks. And judging from the schedule the next three weeks, things aren’t likely to get better any time soon.

But that doesn’t mean the Cubs don’t have at least one story line worthy of pulling some attention away from the NFL draft this week, if not the start of the NFL season a few months from now.

In fact, it’s the ‘‘uncharted waters’’ the Cubs’ former All-America wide receiver continues to negotiate.

If Jeff Samardzija can be the 6-5, 225-pound horse near the front of the rotation, then ‘‘wait till next year’’ might not sound as hollow as it usually does on the North Side.

And that starts with simply getting him through six months of regular starts for the first time in his life.

‘‘We’ve got a plan laid out for him, something we’ve talked about with Jed [Hoyer] and Theo [Epstein],’’ pitching coach Chris Bosio said. ‘‘We’ll follow our guidelines and try to take advantage of some off days and pitch-count days. But he’s a big, strong guy. He wants the ball.’’

Ask Samardzija, 27, about personal goals, and you barely get the sentence out.

‘‘Obviously, as a starting pitcher, you’re looking at that 200 number,’’ he said.

That’s where the process and the plan come in. Samardzija never has pitched more than 1412/3 innings in a season in his life.

Through four starts this season, he’s on pace for more than 190. Last year, he threw 88 innings, all in relief.

‘‘You’re going to keep an eye on everything he does, the innings, the pitch counts,’’ said manager Dale Sveum, who also made it clear he wants to make no excuses for what he called the ‘‘uncharted waters’’ Samardzija is in this season.

‘‘He’s a max-effort guy, and he’s doing things he hasn’t done for a few years now: starting and maxing out. And not only that, but maxing out in the big leagues, where the intensity is a lot more than starting in the minor leagues.’’

When Samardzija starts Monday’s finale of a four-game series in Philadelphia that opens Friday night, he already will match his previous career total of big-league starts.

Although he wants 200 innings, he knows that’s not the big-picture objective.

‘‘We’re going to talk about it as we go along, play it by ear,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s definitely a learning process, especially going through and seeing some of these teams — like the Cardinals and Brewers — multiple times in a season.

‘‘It really proves if you can do it. Those are the true tests.’’

That makes those 62/3 scoreless innings against St. Louis on Tuesday night — 11 days after he beat the Cardinals in St. Louis — a major test passed with high grades.

Especially since it came after his worst start, 32/3 innings in a loss in Miami.

‘‘We want him to just be competitive in every start out there and see what kind of innings he has,’’ said Bosio, who says nothing in the team’s plan for Samardzija involves necessarily skipping him to keep the innings down.

‘‘It’s more of a management thing as an overall plan for him, as the season goes. I don’t envision him having 13 or 14 complete games this year.’’

What the Cubs do envision are games like that 82/3-inning gem against the Nationals in his season debut and that start against the Cardinals on Tuesday.

They see those performances becoming more the norm, and they see the potential for that kind of pitcher to be a building block. And maybe they even see that providing a glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel.

And, of course, that’s all about what the opponents aren’t seeing.

‘‘You’re not going to get a ton of offense if a guy is locating a 97 mph fastball with an 89 mph split,’’ Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after Tuesday’s start.

‘‘Let’s be straight. If he’s making pitches like that, you’re not going to get a ton of offense.’’



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