Updated: March 6, 2014 12:19AM
MESA, Ariz. — The pressure is on Jeff Samardzija like it’s never been before. And he knows it.
He got his chance to prove he could be a starter two years ago. Last year was about showing he could last a full season and throw 200 innings.
This time around, there’s nothing left for the Cubs’ ace to show but performance. The kind of performance his 200 strikeouts last season suggest is in him. The kind of performance behind his unwillingness to give the Cubs a hometown discount on a contract.
“Yeah, it’s the pressure I put on myself,” Samardzija said Wednesday after a three-inning start against the Colorado Rockies.
“I think when you’re younger, you kind of don’t realize the pressure, don’t realize the severity of the situation, I guess you’d say. You’re just out there young and dumb and just winging the ball around.”
Any margin he had for that in the past is gone. He already has been on the trade block since the end of last season and is a near certainty to be traded for prospects by the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
An especially large gathering of scouts attended his start Wednesday. Choosing to work without his split-finger fastball, Samardzija hit a batter, walked in a run and gave up four hits.
With his trade value, his team’s slim hopes to compete and avoid a sell-off, his drive to prove he’s a bona fide front-line starter and his desire to win, there’s more riding on Samardzija starting strong — and sustaining it — than he’s ever faced.
“I’m definitely going into the season with a mind-set of being ready for Opening Day and really working towards that and seeing what I need to do to prepare for that so we can hit the season running,” Samardzija said.