By Bruce Levine--
GLENDALE Ariz. (CBS) -- On pace to start Opening Day, White Sox right-hander Jeff Samardzija got his work in Tuesday, pitching into the fifth inning for the first time this spring. Although manager Robin Ventura has no desire to name an Opening Day starter at this point, the smart money is on Samardzija getting the call in Kansas City on April 5 as ace left-hander Chris Sale remains sidelined.
Samardzija gave up two runs in four-plus innings. That run total included a long solo home run off of the bat of Logan Morrison in the fourth inning.
"I felt like I had good life on my fastball," Samardzija said. "They (Mariners) have really good hitters and a lot of left-handed hitting. Lo Mo got me on one up."
The major difference for Samardzija now seems to be experience.
"I am literally going pitch to pitch working on hitters with the catcher," Samardzija said. "Three years ago, it was about survival every time out. I would go out there, say the Lord's Prayer and hope to get through six innings."
Samardzija doesn't have to pray on the mound any longer. He has averaged 200 innings and nearly 200 strikeouts over the past three seasons. Those numbers are even more impressive due to the fact the Cubs stopped him at 175 innings in mid-2012 to protect his arm.
An Opening Day assignment would be exciting for Samardzija, but it's certainly not his main focus.
"Heh, we know our Opening Day closer is (David) Robertson," Samardzija joked. "What I really care about is 33. I want to make my 33 starts this season, anyway and anyhow. After that you look at the really important ones -- start number 34, 35 36 … those are obviously the playoff starts. That is what it is all about."
The White Sox believe Samardzija is primed for a big season. Chicago has reloaded its offense and should score some runs for a pitcher who had 13 no-decisions last year.
"I have had a lot of life on my stuff all spring," Samardzija said. "I avoided that dead arm period, and I have been trying to let go and test myself. I have been letting it go,-feeling good and coming in the next day ready to go again."
Samardzija will make his next start Saturday against Kansas City.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.
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