Samardzija set for second straight Opening Day start
Cubs tab righty for March 31 in Pittsburgh, where he got the nod in 2013 opener
MESA, Ariz. -- The weather may be similar to when Jeff Samardzija and his Valparaiso, Ind., high school team faced Michigan City -- when there were snow flurries so thick he couldn't see the pitcher from the outfield -- but the right-hander doesn't care. He'll be starting on Opening Day for the second straight year, kicking off the Cubs' 2014 season against the Pirates.
On Friday, Cubs manager Rick Renteria announced Samardzija will start March 31, and the right-hander will be the first pitcher ever to do so on back-to-back Opening Days at PNC Park for either the Pirates or the visiting team. Samardzija beat the Pirates in the 2013 opener, giving up two hits and striking out nine over eight scoreless innings in a 3-1 Cubs win in Pittsburgh.
"Obviously, the way [Travis Wood] pitched last year and how great he was, I think we would've been happy to have a few different guys," Samardzija said. "It's nice to have it done with and out of the way. Now you can set your schedule and circle one day on the calendar, which is nice."
Samardzija complimented the Pirates and how they handled the hoopla surrounding Opening Day last year, and he hopes it's the same this year.
"As a player, you just want everything to be on time," he said. "Whatever they have scheduled, whatever ceremony, you just want it on time so you can adjust accordingly. They did an outstanding job. It was a great experience, and the weather was beautiful. We'll keep our fingers crossed that the snow is gone -- we can hope and pray, I guess."
Growing up in the Midwest, Samardzija is used to snow.
"It'll be like facing Michigan City, first game with Valparaiso High School against the Michigan City Wolves," he said. "We had snow coming down and the mound was a mud pit. The game must go on. You just get ready to pitch.
"As a pitcher, it's a little easier. The weather isn't that much of a factor -- you're warmed up and have a coat on. The hitters who have to stand out on the field not moving are the ones who it's a little tougher on."
Does he remember how he did against the Wolves?
"I think I was in the outfield," Samardzija said. "I remember looking in and not being able to see the pitcher because of the snow flurries. I think I came in and closed. Michigan City wasn't very strong, so I'm assuming we won."
Ryan Dempster was the last Cubs pitcher to start consecutive Opening Days, doing so in 2011-12. Wood will follow Samardzija. Both pitchers reached 200 innings last season for the first time in their careers. Samardzija finished 8-13, while Wood was 9-12.
"We'll go Woody [in the second game] and keep working on the rest," Renteria said of his rotation. "[Edwin Jackson] should follow and everybody will follow in line."
The Cubs are still sorting out the rest of the rotation, with Jason Hammel, Chris Rusin, Jake Arrieta, James McDonald and Carlos Villanueva in the mix.
Renteria said it wasn't a tough decision to name Samardzija.
"Jeff's done it before, and put in a very strong year, as Woody did," Renteria said. "I think the decision was quite easy for all of us."
Of course, the rumors persist that Samardzija may be dealt by Opening Day. He's done his best to ignore them.
"It's the same thing we talked about before -- we're sticking to the same plan," Samardzija said. "It's just exciting to know what day we're pitching on and can schedule accordingly. I know Woody feels the same way. Now we can just look at that date and go from there. It's exciting. It really helps you realize you're getting close to the season and that it's close to getting going."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.