CINCINNATI – This isn’t how Jeff Samardzija envisioned his September: Staggering toward the finish line in what was supposed to be another prove-it year with the Cubs.
The Cincinnati Reds wore out Samardzija on a Wednesday afternoon where the temperature hovered around 90 degrees at Great American Ball Park. After a 6-0 loss, the Opening Day starter who came into 2013 with so much confidence didn’t want to admit he’s running on empty at 194.2 innings.
“I don’t think that has anything to do with it right now,” Samardzija said. “Yeah, it’s uncharted waters, (but) I feel good. I have no complaints or no excuses.”
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It’s not only a few bad starts, though Samardzija has given up 17 runs in his last three games. Since the beginning of July, he’s put up a 5.98 ERA – and that includes two dominant starts that made him the National League’s co-player of the week in late August.
“I hold myself to a high standard,” Samardzija said. “So having these last three games that I’ve had are not acceptable and I’m obviously frustrated about it. You just got to keep working and keep getting better and look forward to that next start and get back on track.”
The Reds (83-64) restored order after losing the first two games of this series. It’s a pennant race, but you wouldn’t know it in Cincinnati, where the attendance numbers went 22,920, 21,396 and 22,088. A No. 1 starter is supposed to take care of the sweep.
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Samardzija turned his back and couldn’t watch the ball disappear into the right-field seats with two outs in the sixth. The inning had extended when Devin Mesoraco beat out an infield single on a ball hit deep in the hole toward shortstop Starlin Castro. Moments later, pinch-hitter Jack Hannahan hammered Samardzija’s 86 mph slider 402 feet for a three-run homer. It took until his 129th at-bat before Hannahan hit his first home run this season.
“He’s a big horse,” manager Dale Sveum said. “You’re trying to leave him out there to get out of it. He obviously couldn’t sustain the inning again.”
Only three N.L. pitchers woke up on Wednesday having thrown more pitches this season than Samardzija: Clayton Kershaw (3,141); Adam Wainwright (3,114); and Cole Hamels (3,105).
Samardzija’s now at 3,167 after laboring through 114 pitches and the Cubs hoped he would take another leap forward, giving them the kind of frontline starter the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies would have in a short playoff series.
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“He probably won’t admit it,” Sveum said, “but I’d probably go out on a limb saying there’s a combination of (getting tired) and getting a little mentally worn out right now, too.”
Samardzija (8-12, 4.44 ERA) should pass 200 innings and 200 strikeouts and has three starts left in what’s looking like a 95-loss season and a last-place finish.
“Regardless of the situation, regardless of what’s going on, you still got to go out and do your work and be ready to pitch every fifth day,” Samardzija said. “You got to look at it the right way. I wasn’t totally unhappy with how I threw – it’s just a couple pitches that made it look a little skewed.
“When you’re playing a good team like the Reds, you got to be perfect all the time or else you’re going to get hurt.”
The Cubs are already writing off this entire season as foundation building, so Samardzija will have to take it as a learning experience, or else readjust the expectations.
“He’s in unchartered waters now in the big leagues as far as pitching the last month,” Sveum said. “The grind of a whole season and knowing you’re not getting shut down…I don’t care who you are, the body starts wearing down. When you’ve never been there before, it takes a little toll.”