SAN DIEGO -- Jeff Samardzija is in a completely different position than he was at this time last year.
There is no impending shutdown to cap his innings. There are no questions whether he can handle a full season of 200-plus innings.
But in some ways, he's in the exact same spot. With a little more than a month left in the 2013 season, the Cubs' de facto ace is determined to finish strong, just as he did last year.
"You get to the last couple months and you see that light and you know how many starts you have left," he said after Saturday's 3-2 win over the Padres. "So you really start molding in between starts and what you do with your work and throwing.
"It really allows you to go out and you usually have everything ironed out by now. You feel good and it's just about putting in that work to stay strong and ready to leave it all out there the last month."
If Samardzija could have that mindset for every month of the season, he'd be a clear No. 1 pitcher in this league. Instead, consistency issues have plagued him.
After another strong outing Saturday night in which he allowed just two runs in eight innings, Samardzija (8-11, 4.03 ERA) has now thrown back-to-back gems following a complete game victory over the Nationals his last time out.
But in the two starts prior, the 28-year-old righty surrendered 13 runs in 9 1/3 innings on 17 hits and four walks.
Samardzija is on pace to throw 221 innings this season and showed his ace potential Saturday by putting a stop to the Cubs' four-game losing streak. The Padres loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth inning, but manager Dale Sveum left Samardzija in and he escaped the jam with the lead still intact, blowing a 95 mph fastball past Logan Forsythe for strike three.
"I wasn't surprised [I stayed in]," Samardzija said. "Dale and I would've had a meeting in the dugout if he took me out there. That's what Dale's all about -- putting confidence in his players.
"It worked for me there, too. He didn't even come out and have a mound visit or anything. As a player, that says a lot. You're out there understanding this is your inning, your game and you don't want to waste that. You want to give it back to him and say 'Hey, I appreciate it. I'm going to do good work for you.'"
Samardzija petitioned for a spot in the starting rotation when Theo Epstein took over the Cubs' front office and has emerged as one of the key pieces of the franchise moving forward. Instead of questions about his innings limit or whether he can make it as a starter, there are now questions about contract extensions.
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"It's a funny game," he said. "It's about keeping your head in the grindstone and keep going. Understand it's a funny game and you need to keep doing your work and it worked out for me today.
"You just never know what to expect. I thought I kept my head out there today and had a couple tight situations where I kept my cool."