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Samardzija proves he’s city’s best, future of the Cubs

Who is the best starting pitcher in Chicago?





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Updated: May 28, 2013 11:09AM



This is why Jeff Samardzija is the next guy the Cubs’ front office wants to lock up to a multiyear deal.

It’s also why Samardzija has no intention of settling for a hometown discount, no matter how much he wants to stay in Chicago.

As if an All-America football career spent getting slammed by NFL-bound safeties wasn’t enough to prove his fearlessness and competitiveness, there was Samardzija on Monday night, pitching the best game of his professional career on what’s probably the biggest stage he’ll be on this season.

His first complete game. A two-hit shutout. The tone-setter in the four-day Crosstown Showdown.

The power. The swagger. The future. The ace.

Forget Chris Sale. The Cubs right-hander is Chicago’s pitching ace, as he proved in Monday’s 7-0 victory at U.S. Cellular Field.

“That football mentality helps,” said teammate James Russell, who’s been around big-league baseball since his dad, Jeff, made All-Star teams as a starter, then a reliever. “He instills that fear in the batter, which a lot of guys don’t do.”

On Monday, Samardzija had a 98 mph fastball working in the first inning, threw 97 on his 100th pitch and until a one-out walk in the ninth had faced just one batter over the minimum.

“He was as good as anyone we’ve seen,” said Sox manager Robin Ventura, who compared him to young power-pitching Mets phenom Matt Harvey — a guy Ventura compared to Tigers ace Justin Verlander just a few weeks ago.

Harvey. Verlander.

“Stuff-wise, he’s as good as it gets in my opinion,” said Sox third-baseman Conor Gillaspie — the only South Sider with a hit until the ninth — of Samardzija.

What about Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg? Former MVP Joey Votto of the Reds drew that comparison when talking to a Cubs coach this season — and then said it was no comparison. He’d rather face Strasburg, he told the coach.

Russell, one of Samardzija’s closer friends in the clubhouse, isn’t surprised by the comparisons.

“He’s a little harder mentally and stronger physically than a lot of those guys out there,” Russell said. “Yeah, Strasburg’s got 98 [mph], but you’re not as timid getting in the box against him as you would be against somebody like Jeff.”

That’s why Samardzija is the front office’s next priority. Why he’s the manager’s best hope for a turnaround anytime soon.

Why he’s Chicago’s ace.

No doubt Sale has the recent results and the stuff from all those knobby left-handed angles. But he also has the recent bouts of soreness, the toothpick frame and the hold-your-breath mechanics with that skinny body that doesn’t inspire nearly the long-term confidence as the power-throwing Cubs ace with the Notre Dame football frame.

“He’s a big-time power guy,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “His split-finger is pretty much an unhittable pitch when he’s convicted and throwing like that.”

Emphasis on big-time.

That might be what sets Samardzija apart from many other front-line power guys.

In the three biggest starts of his career, he has allowed two earned runs in 26 innings. He pitched his first career complete game last September in his final I’ll-show-you start after being unwillingly shut down because of an innings limit, pitched eight shutout innings in his first Opening Day start last month and then came Monday on the big stage with his family in attendance, at a ballpark he loved as a kid, in a game with all of the city’s fans watching.

“That’s a big-time pitcher. That’s a No. 1,” Sveum said.



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