The visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley Field wasn’t designed with Jeff Samardzija in mind.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound former Notre Dame wide receiver experienced the cramped quarters for the first time on Friday, with the White Sox opening a three-game crosstown series on Clark and Addison. Samardzija won’t pitch over the weekend after firing a four-hit shutout against Toronto on Thursday, so he’ll spend his return to Wrigley Field watching from the dugout and claustrophobic clubhouse.
“Impressive to say the least, an engineering gem,” Samardzija smiled, marveling at how 25 players plus a coaching staff can fit in the tiny room hoisted above the Wrigley Field concourse. “It's cool, though. Unfortunately, it's lost on everyone now, right? Everybody, all the young players, the new owners and this and that, want new, new, new. So it's always fun when you're here. It just takes you back. It's been the same as it's always been. It reminds you of a time when players weren't pampered with spas and saunas and things like that.”
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Lately, Samardzija has looked more like the pitcher that made his first All-Star Game in 2014 and, along with right-hander Jason Hammel, netted the Cubs Addison Russell in a July 4 trade a year ago.
After shutting out a Toronto lineup that’s first in baseball in OPS (.772) and second in home runs (113), Samardzija’s ERA dropped to 4.02. Over his last six starts, he has a 2.40 ERA with 39 strikeouts, eight walks and only one home run allowed. Opposing hitters have a .565 OPS against him — so essentially, he’s turned the opposition into a lineup of nine Alexei Ramirezes (.554 OPS).
While Samardzija’s six-start streak hasn’t erased his rough months of April and May — he's still allowed the most hits of any pitcher in the American League — he finally feels settled as a key part of the White Sox rotation.
“I had to make a few more adjustments than I had to last year,” Samardzija said. “But the pitches were all there, I just needed my location and I was attacking hitters with the change a little bit. Since we've done that and found a little confidence in my delivery and what's going on out there, it just kind of builds. You feel more confident in your teammates and everything just starts to come together.”
[NBC SHOP: Buy a Jeff Samardzija jersey!]
The question now becomes: How much longer will Samardzija have in a White Sox uniform?
With the White Sox entering Friday’s Crosstown Cup curtain lifter five games under .500, they’re one extended winning streak away from climbing back into the AL Wild Card race or one extended losing streak away from having to seriously consider selling off parts before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Samardzija, a free agent to be after this season, would coveted by plenty of contending teams needing to add an arm before August rolls around.
Samardzija’s been through this process before and is adept at tuning out the rumors. But whether he’ll only be with the White Sox for a few more days, the rest of the season or beyond won’t diminish the northwest Indiana native’s personal accomplishment of pitching on both sides of town in his career.
“If you would have told 12-year-old me this would happen I probably would have laughed at you,” Samardzija said. “It's pretty crazy. I don't usually look at things at the moment, I kind of wait until it's all said and done to look back. But I think down the road when I look back at it, by the time I'm 30 to play for both teams is pretty cool.”