MLB: Cubs hold on to beat Nationals, get on the board
CHICAGO – Jeff Samardzija’s desire to start for the Cubs wasn’t a secret during the offseason and spring training.
He took a big step in proving the doubters wrong against the Washington Nationals on Sunday at Wrigley Field. In his first start since 2010, Samardzija came within one strike of a complete game in the longest outing of his career. The Nationals managed just four hits and one earned run off Samardzija as the Cubs won their first game of the season, 4-3.
“I really feel like I have a chip on my shoulder because I talked a big game about wanting to start and made it public,” Samardzija said. “I don’t want to look like an idiot.”
Samardzija (1-0) would have secured the complete-game victory, but a Starlin Castro error with two outs in the ninth allowed Ryan Zimmerman to reach base. Samardzija, already over 100 pitches, gave up a home run to LaRoche on a 97 mph fastball, forcing manager Dale Sveum to use closer Carlos Marmol in what was suddenly a one-run game.
“LaRoche is a great fastball hitter and I went a little Garza on everybody and tried to blow his doors off and he took it about 400 feet to right so that’s way it goes,” Samardzija said. “I’d been throwing him soft all game and I let me ego get in the way there a little.”
Despite walking Jayson Werth, Marmol, facing Xavier Nady, induced a foul pop up to end the game to earn his first save and Sveum’s first win as Cubs manager.
“It was an unbelievable performance,” Sveum said of Samardzija. “Just one pitch or whatever. He probably got a little excited there (against LaRoche). But he still threw a strike and still had his velocity.”
At one point, Samardzija retired 15 straight Nationals following a double by the game’s leadoff batter Ian Desmond. Most impressively, Samardzija did not walk a batter and struck out eight on 110 pitches (79 strikes).
“It’s always very important especially for me with my past history of getting in trouble when I put guys on base,” Samardzija said. “I just want to stay out of that and let my defense work behind me and they did just that.”
Samardzija was paired with his old battery mate from Single-A Daytona, catcher Steve Clevenger, and their previous 100-game experience with one another paid off.
“There’s a couple times in the game where we weren’t on the same page but towards the end of the game we got on the same page,” Clevenger said. “We had every pitch any time we needed it. I trusted him that he could throw the pitch at any time.”
The Cubs (1-2) struck first against Washington (2-1) in the fourth inning thanks to aggressive base running by Castro and a sacrifice fly by Alfonso Soriano. Soriano added another RBI in the sixth against Washington starter Jordan Zimmerman (0-1) with a two-out single.
Two insurance runs in the eighth inning padded the Cubs’ one-run lead behind a Castro RBI double and Ian Stewart’s RBI single that gave them a 4-1 lead.
Star of the game: Jeff Samardzija, Cubs, W, 8 2/3 IP, 4 H, 8 SO, 0 BB
Key performer: Starlin Castro, Cubs, 2-for-4, 2 R, RBI, 2 SB
Up next: Brewers at Cubs, 6 tonight
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