ATLANTA -- Jeff Samardzija ditched his experimental curveball Monday and the results were eye-popping.
On the strength of a nasty late-breaking split-finger pitch, mixed with a fastball in the mid-90 mph range, Samardzija not only struck out a career-high 11 Atlanta Braves batters, it was the single-season strikeout high for a Chicago Cubs pitcher this season in a 4-1 victory.
“That’s the learning curve of this starting stuff,” manager Dale Sveum said. “If you’re a three-pitch pitcher, be a three-pitch pitcher and don’t all of a sudden think you’re going to get to a 1.00 ERA. Just like a .300 hitter, don’t try to be a .350 hitter and change things otherwise you’re going to go backward. But that’s the learning curve of starting sometimes.”
Samardzija said he added the curveball in his June 16 outing against the Boston Red Sox with the intention of not only having another out-pitch at his disposal, but to also give opposing hitters one more thing to think about.
The only person who seemed to be struggling with the added pitch, though, was Samardzija. In the three outings he used the curveball, he gave up 17 earned runs, including nine in 4 1/3 innings of his last outing last week against the New York Mets.
Of course it’s easy to simplify things when you have a strikeout pitch at your disposal like Samardzija had Monday.
“It’s about time, huh?” Samardzija said. “I talked to [pitching coach Chris Bosio] after the game and I’m just really happy with how we worked between starts. Things like that happen throughout the season. You don’t have your best stuff and you have to go back to the drawing board and see what works. We definitely put in the elbow grease between starts to get this thing right.”
After a difficult June when the right-hander posted a 10.41 ERA, suddenly the Samardzija Starting Project is once again in full effect.
Before the month started he was being talked about as a cornerstone to build the franchise around with Starlin Castro. When the month ended, the cornerstones were Castro and Anthony Rizzo, who added his second home run in a week in support of Samardzija.
Monday’s outing shows that it isn’t the mounting innings, the expectations or the lack of quality pitches that Samardzija is struggling with but rather the experience that comes with starting week in and week out.
“I just thought it was mental for me the last few starts,” Samardzija said. “I felt I wasn’t giving myself the chance to succeed. That’s frustrating, especially with how our team is playing.”
In other words, Samardzija wasn’t feeling too good about being the only Cubs pitcher with a defeat since the start of the last homestand. The Cubs have now won six of their last seven games, with that only defeat coming when the Mets rolled to a 17-1 victory when Samardzija was on the mound.
He’s now on board with the recent run of success and it makes it easier to take that he had the worst start of the past week when he also knows he now has the best outing of the last week too.
“You never want to be the one guy who let your team down,” he said. “I really wanted to come out today and attack the zone and see what happens.”