MESA, Ariz. — Jeff Samardzija admitted he was excited to pitch the first game at Cubs Park on Thursday after fireworks exploded following the national anthem.
Samardzija didn't disappoint in front of a Cactus League-record crowd of 14,486 that included scouts from at least nine teams - including the Blue Jays and Mariners - who watched him pitch two scoreless innings in the Cubs' 5-2 loss to the Diamondbacks.
"You're not really worried about that too much," Samardzija said of pitching in front of scouts. "You're assuming they're out there every game. You just want to put on a good show for them."
The mood of Samardzija, who has attracted interest from several teams and can become a free agent after 2015, turned from humorous to serious when asked if he thought his status would be clarified before the regular season.
"I would be surprised," said Samardzija, who will earn $5.345 million this season. "From what it sounds like right now, we're going head over heels for the season with this team. (Manager) Rick Renteria has made it very clear that we're here to win. I love to hear him talk about his excitement for winning.
"Obviously, development is part of it, but Rick's No. 1 goal is winning and we're 100 percent on the same page when it comes to that. We want to win, we want to win here and want to win now. That's the only goal."
Nevertheless, this could be the last spring training in a Cubs uniform for Samardzija, 29, who spoke freely about the luxury of working on specific situations, such as trying to pitch more efficiently and setting up hitters rather than trying to prove his major league credentials.
"When you're young, you worry about other things other than improving your pitches or delivery," Samardzija said. "You're more worried about making the team or impressing the coaches so they can put you in a role."
Samardzija threw 20 of 31 pitches for strikes and worked out of a jam when he struck out Aaron Hill on consecutive sliders and Eric Chavez on a split-finger fastball.
"The more pitches you can get action and swings and misses on, it gives you more confidence and puts it in the back of your head that those are working and you can come back (to them) when you need it," Samardzija said.
According to one veteran scout, Samardzija's fastball topped out at 94 mph and his slider was in the low 80s. Samardzija said speculation about his status puts a chip on his shoulder.
"It makes you want to prove yourself even more, and that's the thing about this game," Samardzija said. "You're constantly having to prove yourself. It doesn't matter what your contract situation is or anything like that. The only thing that matters is proving yourself that day against the team you're playing against.
"That's for yourself too. It's a tough game. So when you do well, it feels good, and you build on that for your next time out and after that. If you're not your own hardest critic and not checking yourself harder than anyone else, then you probably have a problem. I'm always my hardest critic and always will be that way."
Renteria had other things on his mind than wondering whether he could envision the Cubs opening the season without Samardzija.
"I'm not even thinking about opening day and him not being here," Renteria said. "Right now, I'm thinking about today."