As Cubs search for rhythm, Samardzija keeps powering through

As Cubs search for rhythm, Samardzija keeps powering through
April 5, 2014, 5:30 pm
Share This Post
Tony Andracki

In a few months, this could all be a moot point.

If he's traded before the deadline like many predict, Jeff Samardzija won't have to worry about trying to come up with answers for what plagues the Cubs' offense.

Until then, there's nothing Samardzija can do but keep grinding.

In 14 innings this season, the ultra-competitive right-hander has allowed just two runs, but the Cubs have failed to provide any run support, getting shut out in both games, including a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies Saturday at Wrigley Field.

[MORE - Amid offensive struggles, Cubs finalize starting rotation]

Still, Samardzija refused to make excuses or exhibit frustration at the lack of offense.

"I see these guys work every day," he said. "I know what they're doing. It would be different if guys were being lazy or that. We're doing everything we can.

"It's early in the season and we're going to keep going, keep pushing and figure this out."

After tossing seven shutout innings in the Cubs' 10-inning, 1-0 loss on Opening Day, Samardzija allowed just two runs to the Phillies in seven innings Saturday. The offense generated 10 hits off former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, but left 10 men on base.

"Anybody would be disheartened by it, but Jeff went out there and got all fired up," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He did the best he could for our club to keep us in the ballgame. Those guys that are on the field appreciate what he went through.

"He gave us a lot of innings, got us through some tough patches there. You gotta tip your hat to him. He did a great job."

Samardzija struggled to get Phillies second baseman Chase Utley out on the afternoon, as the veteran scored both runs on a first-inning homer and an RBI single from Domonic Brown in the fourth inning. In the series, Utley is 5-for-8 with two homers, a double, three runs, four RBI and a walk.

[RELATED - No pressure: Castro knows Cubs will break out of offensive slump]

The Cubs hope Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo will emerge as go-to guys in the same capacity Utley has been with the Phillies the last decade. The duo exhibited signs Saturday they may be breaking out of their early-season slump, combining for five hits off Lee. But they failed to come through with runners on base.

The Cubs insist they're not pressing at the plate, despite scoring only eight runs in five games.

"It's definitely too early for that. Nobody around here is feeling extra pressure," third baseman Mike Olt said. "We're just trying to figure something out."

The Cubs are just 4-for-40 with runners in scoring position this season and Renteria is trying to help the guys relax at the plate in those situations, even if it means repeating the same message over and over again.

"It's OK if it's a broken record," he said. "You keep repeating it. You keep talking about it. You never stop talking about it until you understand it and get a good feel for it.

"A lot of it just continues to be more games. We just keep getting in more (at-bats). I know we didn't come out with a victory today, but it was a ballgame we were in the whole way."

Samardzija was the reason the Cubs were still hanging around late in the game, pumping 95 mph fastballs in the seventh inning and striking out the last four batters he faced. He admitted he takes pride in pitching deep into games and finishing strong.

The former standout receiver at Notre Dame loves when the pressure is on and said it doesn't affect him when the Cubs offense gives him no room for error.

"Nothing changes. You just go out there and try to get three outs," Samardzija said. "I've learned over these past couple years to not look at it as a whole and break it more down to just inning-by-inning and hitter-by-hitter.

"You start going into a game saying, 'I gotta go seven, eight innings,' that's a tall task to ask for yourself. But to go out and say, 'I gotta get the first hitter out, the second hitter out, the third hitter out,' that's a little bit better approach.

"That's part of the learning process and having that confidence in yourself."

[MORE - Would selling Cubs shares do anything for Theo's rebuild?]

Samardzija has that supreme confidence, regularly betting on himself and refusing to budge in past extension talks with the Cubs. He wants to get paid like a frontline starter and believes he will put it all together.

Who knows how many starts he has left at Wrigley Field. Who knows how many starts he has left pitching in front of an offense that can't score behind him.

It's not even a week into the 2014 season. Samardzija isn't looking for an exit ramp just yet.

He knows some things are out of his control and the Cubs remain positive in the clubhouse despite a 1-4 start.

"Something's going to click soon," Olt said, "and then we'll go from there."