Samardzija’s efforts helped Tennessee blank Jacksonville, 2-0, at Smokies Park. His seven innings tied for the longest start of his pro career.
“He threw the ball very well, worked ahead in the count and threw four pitches for strikes,” Tennessee pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn said of Samardzija (2-0).
“He threw his fastball on both sides of the plate. He ran a two- and four-seam fastball and had a better slider than we’ve seen from him in the past, and he’s come up with a split-finger fastball that I think really complements his repertoire.”
The split-finger is a fairly new addition to Samardzija’s arsenal.
“He actually told me last year toward the end that he had thrown one a little bit in college,” Lewallyn said. “It was just one of those things that we kept in the back of our minds that he might eventually integrate with his other pitches. It seems to be a pitch that’s really complementing his other pitches well. He doesn’t throw a lot of them. He doesn’t over-expose it, but it gives hitters one more thing to think about. It probably will be a pitch to help him get over the hump and take his game to the next level.”
Lewallyn said that Samardzija “touched 94 (mph)” Thursday and set 90 to 91 mph for most of the evening “with late life on his fastball.”
Jake Muyco started behind the plate and was in sync with Samardzija all evening. Muyco, who also caught Samardzija a season ago at Class High-A Daytona, said that the key to Samardzija’s shutout performance was strike one.
“Tonight was just one of those nights where he was locating, especially with his fastball,” Muyco said. “He was getting ahead, which is key. With his movement, when he throws that two-seamer and guys try to swing at the first pitch, they are going to swing and miss or foul it off. That was the biggest thing for him tonight.
“Tonight, most of their guys were swinging at the fastball and he threw a lot of two-seamers and got a lot of groundballs,” Muyco added.
Muyco said that Samardzija wasn’t set on any particular pitch with two strikes.
“We were just trying to call the game and let the situation dictate that,” Muyco said. “When we got in good counts, we tried to use that splitter to put guys away just so he could get a good feel for it. But if a guy is late on a fastball and has shown he can’t hit a heater, why are you going to throw him something slow?”
Through two starts this season, Samardzija has a 0.75 ERA in 12 innings. Since being promoted to Double-A in August of last year, he is 5-3 with a 2.73 ERA in eight starts with Tennessee. Samardzija began 2007 -- his first season devoted exclusively to baseball after a four-year college career as a two-sport athlete at Notre Dame, in which he became the Irish’s career leader in receptions, touchdown catches and receiving yards on the gridiron -- at Daytona and ended with a 3-8 record and a 4.95 ERA there in 24 appearances, including 20 starts.
The Cubs promoted him to Double-A with a month left in the season, citing night and day improvements in his pitching performances as the year progressed.
“Over the course of the season, he went from being a thrower to a pitcher,” said Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita. “You could see it evolving right in front of your eyes. With every report that got sent to me, he was getting better. As you challenge him, he’s going to meet the challenge. Once he shows us he feels comfortable (in Double-A), he’ll tell us when he’s ready to move on to the next level.”