CHICAGO | Jeff Samardzija was an automatic all-stater in football and baseball at Valparaiso.
As a Notre Dame wide receiver, the all-American caught anything thrown in the same time zone and earned countless honors.
So imagine his surprise when the Cubs shut him down after a Sept. 8 start because of an innings limit and their abysmal record.
No use jeopardizing the organization's future, right?
Samardzija had emerged as the Cubs' ace, so having to play spectator was frustrating.
"I haven't done that -- sit and watch -- since JV basketball," he chuckled."It was a different experience this season. It's tough when you sit there and you can't do anything about it.
"I got to see the game from a different point of view; got to watch it as a coach, essentially, and watch how guys approach the game. It was definitely no fun, but you've got to think it was for the right reasons."
The Cubs weren't going anywhere, so why risk injury?
"It was a positive," Samardzija said. "I had a good year, I did the right things, pitched as many innings as I could in a short amount of time, and they were satisfied with how I played."
Still a work in progress, the Cubs won't be ready to contend in 2013 but at least Samardzija won't have limits, or "chains," as he calls them.
"I now have a full year of experience under my belt being a starting pitcher," he said. "It was a learning experience, switching roles like that.
"I learned how to make adjustments, pitch deep into games, face hitters four times a night, things like that."
Manager Dale Sveum projects the 6-foot-5, hard-throwing righty as his top pitcher next season, barring any big-name trades.
"Having a Jeff Samardzija is huge," Sveum said. "That guy has been a No. 1 and a No. 2 on our staff and to have him for a whole season ... it's great to have some cornerstones; people you can hang your hat on and see what happens on an everyday basis.
"Samardzija is gonna go out there and give you 200-plus innings. When he's on the mound, that's the guy whose attitude is: 'OK, we're winning today.'"
Many observers believed Samardzija would fail in the new role, given his spotty control as a reliever.
He fooled them all, finishing 9-13 in 28 starts and fanning 180 batters in 174 2/3 innings. And that was often without much run support.
But don't tell him he's had the last laugh.
"It means nothing. Hey, man, I really don't care what they think," Samardzija said of his critics. "I've always had an idea of what I can do, where I wanted to be, and that's what I strived for.
"I just want to be the best baseball player I can be."
Samardzija and his first-year skipper are quite alike, it turns out.
"Dale does a great job bridging the gap with some of the players. A lot of times, there's a communication barrier or uneasy feeling," Samardzija said. "But that's not the case here. Everybody's on the same page.
"If you've got something to say, you say it, professionally. It's not about 'control.' He doesn't want to be on TV. He doesn't want to be in the interview room. He wants to win games and doesn't want credit for it. I think he'll be here for a long time."
Samardzija didn't require a major makeover in his pitching style, just a tweak here, a tweak there.
"I repeated my delivery, spent a lot hours in the offseason on the mound, throwing over the plate to a catcher," he said. "Ultimately, that's what it's all about."
With the Cubs' 61-101 record now in the rear-view mirror, Samardzija is concentrating on 2013.
He plans to leave for Arizona on Dec. 1 and begin a workout program that includes throwing footballs to build up arm strength.