CINCINNATI – Jeff Samardzija stretched his right arm and sliced open his index finger, trying to block the ball Shin-Soo Choo hit up the middle.
Samardzija hustled into the dugout and disappeared down the tunnel after the first, second and third innings on a gray Wednesday afternoon at Great American Ball Park, so the training staff could glue it back together.
Samardzija recovered and through six innings looked like the No. 1 starter the Cubs project him to be. But even he couldn’t stop the bleeding for his team in a 1-0 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.
“A little baby cut,” Samardzija said afterward, his finger wrapped in Band-Aid. “It wasn’t so much the feel of it. It was more just the liquid coming out of it than anything else, but they let me pitch. It was more aesthetics than anything else.”
After sitting through a rain delay that lasted one hour and 29 minutes, Samardzija (1-4, 3.03 ERA) got cut by the first batter he faced, and on instinct later reached out but missed another ball Choo bounced past the pitcher’s mound.
The Cubs have been trying to put out so many fires already this season, from the bullpen meltdowns to the shaky defense to the business vs. baseball narrative to the never-ending negotiations over the Wrigley Field renovation.
General manager Jed Hoyer flew to Cincinnati on Tuesday in a show of support for manager Dale Sveum, who implicitly threatened cornerstones Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Hoyer called demotions to Triple-A Iowa a “non-story.”
What’s gotten lost is how good the starting pitching has been with a 2.97 ERA that ranks second in the majors. But as Sveum likes to say, this is a bottom-line business. All the Cubs have to show for it is a 6-14 record.
“We just need to find a way to keep the game close and scrape across a couple runs when we need them,” Samardzija said. “You got to take it as a positive. You can’t sit here and say: We need to do this (or) we need to do that. We need to look at what went well and build on it.”
Samardzija managed to get eight strikeouts and wound up making only one mistake, a cutter that stayed over the plate in the sixth inning. Todd Frazier – who had faced Samardzija several times over the years during those Notre Dame-Rutgers games in the old Big East – crushed it an estimated 480 feet to straightaway center for the seventh longest home run at Great American Ball Park.
“He hammered that ball,” Samardzija said. “He definitely got his money’s worth out on that.”
The Cubs have been getting good returns on free-agent signing Carlos Villaneuva (1.53 ERA) as well as Travis Wood (2.08 ERA), a key piece in the Sean Marshall trade with the Reds (13-9). They haven’t really missed injured starters Matt Garza or Scott Baker, deflecting attention away from the slow start by $52 million man Edwin Jackson (0-3, 4.84 ERA).
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“We’re right there,” Samardzija said. “We need to stay positive (and) finish this month strong and go into May with our heads high and really be ready to make a run into the summer.”
This ended a 4-13 stretch against teams that finished last season above .500. After facing contenders like the Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, the schedule eases up a bit. The sun and scenery in South Florida can’t be the only reasons to look forward to a four-game series against the post-fire sale Miami Marlins.
“We know we have Garza waiting in the wings,” Samardzija said. “We know the type of guy that he is and the competitor he is. (He’s) trying to get back and come help this team out. You know it’s killing him to not be a part of this.
“We need to battle as a staff here while he’s out and keep this thing where we need to be. (To) add an extra big arm like Garza is only a good thing.”
The Cubs are hoping Garza gets through this dead-arm phase and returns to the rotation sometime next month. But what they really need is some offense. If/when it all comes together, they also have to hope it won’t be too late.