Updated: April 12, 2014 6:24AM
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A World Series championship sign hung in the background, just over Jeff Samardzija’s left shoulder. His opposing starter was the guy who pitched the clincher in that World Series. And perched on a folding chair behind home plate was Barry Bonds — the cause of the buzz among the sold-out crowd and for the throng of national media at Scottsdale Stadium on Monday.
“It’s just become a zoo, like normal,” San Francisco Giants ace Matt Cain said of Bonds’ debut as a spring-training coach for the Giants.
The Cubs and Jeff Samardzija are just visiting the zoo on this day. In fact, they find themselves visitors — often spectators — for most things attracting spotlights and spectacles these days.
But Samardzija seems to thrive on moments like this, even when it’s in spring training, especially against somebody like Cain, who pitched five perfect innings against the Cubs.
“It’s exciting to see guys out there competing like Cain does,” said Samardzija, who matched zeroes for three innings before giving up two in the fourth. “That’s what you strive to be as a starting pitcher.”
Samardzija might find his spotlight sooner than most Cubs in camp this spring, if not the spectacle of a pennant race.
Sources say the Cubs are not involved in any trade talks now. But everyone in baseball knows Samardzija is available. And, with no sign of an extension in sight, the front office will be compelled to trade him by the July 31 deadline to avoid a steep drop in his trade value.
He knows it. So do the more than a dozen scouts who attended Samardzija’s third start of the spring, including Toronto, Arizona, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, all teams with potential pitching needs.
“You’d be lying if you said that things don’t cross your mind like that,” Samardzija said. “I’m human. I have different thoughts throughout the day. Sometimes the uncertainty of the situation pops in my head, for sure.”
Especially as the spring heats up toward the middle of March and teams start eyeing the season with more urgency.
The Washington Nationals, who are dealing with starter Doug Fister’s sore elbow, have watched
Samardzija pitch twice this spring. And the playoff-minded Atlanta Braves are facing the potential losses of two key starters with Kris Medlen (forearm) and Brandon Beachy (biceps) leaving their starts in pain each of the last two days.
Cain, a guy with a 2.10 ERA in eight postseason starts and two rings, knows what a playoff pitcher looks like, and he said Samardzija would be a good fit in any contender’s rotation in October.
“Definitely. I mean, you even see it now,” Cain said. “He’s a bulldog guy out there. He’s a guy that’s not comfortable to face, a guy that throws that hard with a nasty split and slider like that.
“He would be an asset to anybody that’s in a race.”
Samardzija’s the only one left in the Cubs’ clubhouse with playoff experience as a Cub. He pitched one inning in the Cubs’ divisional series loss to the Dodgers as a rookie reliever in 2008.
Six years later, it’s all about raising Cain as the model.
“That’s my goal as a pitcher, to be that guy,” Samardzija said. “I want big situations, big games. … Be that one guy that the coaches don’t worry about, ‘OK, he’s got the ball, let’s go worry about something else.’
“That’s where I want to see myself as a pitcher. That’s what it’s all about, getting to the playoffs and winning championships.”
Cain sees it.
“He’s got top-of-the-line stuff,” Cain said. “He’s got every quality. From first seeing him coming out of the bullpen throwing middle-to-upper 90s all the time, to now where you’re seeing him throw 93, 95 — still extremely hard for a starter. … Sometimes it’s just figuring out little parts of the game. Sometimes that just takes time.”