Jeff Samardzija has become the example for Cubs

Jeff Samardzija has become the example for Cubs
April 18, 2014, 6:45 pm
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Tony Andracki

This is starting to become a theme.

Jeff Samardzija pitches well, the Cubs fail to provide him with enough offense (or defense) and he walks off the field with a loss or no-decision.

It happened for the fourth time already this young season Friday afternoon as the Cubs fell 4-1 to the Reds at Wrigley Field. Samardzija went seven strong innings, allowing one earned run and six hits while striking out seven and walking two.

"He did a great job. He made some great pitches," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said after the game. "He showed a lot of heart. He kept us in the ballgame, for sure."

In the four games Samardzija has pitched this year, the Cubs have given him just four runs in support. They snapped a 24-inning scoreless streak Friday by pushing across an unearned run in the seventh inning. Prior to that, they had not scored since Sunday afternoon, a span of almost five days.

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The Cubs' defense didn't help him out, either, allowing two unearned runs to score on a catcher's interference and a throwing error from Emilio Bonifacio on what could have been an inning-ending double play.

"He threw the ball really well," catcher Welington Castillo said. "He did all he could to win the game, but we just didn't support him."

It has to be tough for a guy like Samardzija, an elite competitor who loves to win and thrives in the bright lights on the biggest stage. But he is taking it all in stride.

[MORE - Cubs hoping to learn from failures during offensive struggles]

"You just keep going out and doing your work. That's all you can do," he said. "Just go out and have quick innings and get that offense back in there.

"Its just the way it goes sometimes. You just go out and keep doing your work and understand that everybody's doing their job and you can't let it get to you."

Less than a month into the 2014 campaign, the Cubs' most marketable player is looking like a frontline starter with a 1.29 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. But his record sits at 0-2 and he hasn't won since Aug. 30 of last season, a span of 10 starts.

Samardzija showed his athleticism with back-to-back-to-back put-outs at first base on ground balls to Anthony Rizzo. He once again filled the workhorse role, firing 113 pitches in the loss and his professionalism was on full display after the game refusing to throw his teammates under the bus after the Cubs' fifth straight loss.

"When it's not going so great for you as a team, you need to come together and understand one guy has a down day, somebody else needs to pick him up," Samardzija said. "That's where we're at right now. We need to be patient. Starters need to keep showing up and doing their job and when it blows open, you get ready to go."

Renteria has kept a positive message in the clubhouse since arriving in Chicago, but he showed some frustration Friday and admitted he wants to see more from the Cubs.

"I concern myself more with the way we approach the game," he said. "If our approaches are good, if we're really focused on what we're supposed to be doing both at the plate and in the field, I'm good with it.

"Today, I think we were a little sloppy in general. Jeff really kept us in the ballgame throughout. I think we'll do better."

Renteria pointed to Samardzija as a good role model for the younger players in the clubhouse, to keep doing their work and worry only about what they can control.

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"He went out there and did a great job. Those are things we can learn from, use to our advantage," Renteria said. "It's a teaching tool. The reality is, it takes a tremendous amount of heart and a tremendous amount of focus to go out and compete the way he did."

The first-year manager claimed he wasn't thinking about the Cubs' scoreless streak during the game and believes the team's confidence will turn.

It may still be early (the season is only three weeks old), but Castillo admitted it's impossible to stave off the waves of frustration that comes with the losing and the offensive futility.

Samardzija may not have to deal with this much longer. Barring a crazy twist, he will be packing his bags and heading to another team before the trade deadline. But for now, his head is in Chicago and he's doing everything he can to try to carry this organization into the next era of winning baseball on the North Side.

"It's a good learning curve for us to understand that to win games in the big leagues, all three facets of the game need to be clean. When you play good teams, they take advantage of your mistakes and you can't give them any breathing room from the beginning.

"I'm pretty positive. I like the way I'm pitching, just sticking with the gameplan. ... You just go out and keep doing your work. Keep working hard and stay positive and good things will happen."