ATLANTA -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija has seen former teammate Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout performance from 1998 “about a hundred times” in the Cubs clubhouse but wasn’t thinking about that number on Sunday afternoon, though he was well on his way to matching it.
Samardzija struck out 13 in less than six innings of work, yet lost the game to the Atlanta Braves, 5-1.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Samardzija said after the game. “You strike guys out like that, your pitch count gets up.”
Samardzija threw 105 pitches and couldn't get out of that sixth inning. A walk and hit batter set up a bases-loaded single by Ramiro Pena, breaking a 1-1 tie.
“A couple bad decisions that came back to haunt me,” Samardzija said.
Another bad one was walking the pitcher the inning before. Manager Dale Sveum said it turned the lineup over and may have contributed to the next inning's woes. Samardzija also threw two wild pitches in the fifth, allowing the tying run to score.
“Let a couple things get to me a little bit,” Samardzija said.
That includes the hit-by-pitch in Chris Johnson's at-bat right before the Pena single. Samardzija thought Johnson had swung at the ball and questioned whether it hit him. The umpire claimed it did which sent Samardzija back to the mound fuming. Then he reared back and threw 97 mph fastballs to Pena with the last one ending up in right field. Game over.
“I got too much of the plate for him to put a bat on it,” Samardzija said. “I could have thrown a splitter. There’s a lot of different things you can have done in that situation... I felt hard was the (right) pitch there.”
Was hard the pitch because he was amped up over the hit batter, or was it the right pitch to throw? The bottom line isn’t whether the Cubs won or lost the game, the point concerns Samardzija’s maturation. He’s showing he has ace material -- No. 3 or 4 pitchers don’t strike out 13 in 5.2 innings. But can he consistently respond to adversity like an ace?
Samardzija praised Braves’ starter Tim Hudson. Hudson didn’t look good in the first inning nor did he have the stuff that Samardzija had on Sunday, but he was the winner.
Samardzija even took a shot at himself for being unable to get a sacrifice bunt down. These are all things an ace gets right more times than not. The good news is Samardzija knows it and isn’t satisfied with two pretty good starts so far.
“You need to lock it down the whole time you’re on the mound,” he said. “You need to make your pitches to the 1-hole hitter or the 8-hole hitter, can’t walk the pitcher. Then go from there.”
After the loss, both Cubs middle infielders, Starlin Castro and Alberto Gonzalez, claimed the sun was a factor in the game. Both looked shaky trying to field one-hop line drives which ended up in the outfield. One came in the key sixth inning off the bat of Juan Francisco.
“I see it at the last moment, (almost hit) my face,” Castro said. “Trying to protect myself, it almost killed me.”
Gonzalez had “no idea” where “a couple of balls were” as they went by him for base hits. Both said they had to get low to the ground to see the ball and admitted it was unusual for the sun to play havoc on grounders.
“I’ve never had that before,” Castro said.
Gonzalez added: “I couldn’t see (anything).”
Second baseman Darwin Barney will have his stitches removed from his left knee on Monday and be re-examined at that time. He’ll go on a rehab stint in the minors for a few days but he’s unsure where he’ll go. Class-A Kane County is a possibility.
“Our job is to pitch. Our job isn’t to judge what the hitters are doing.” -- Samardzija, when asked if the pressure is on when there’s little offensive help.
“He caught us with our guard down and beat us twice.” -- Dale Sveum, on Braves' No. 8 hitter Pena, who totaled four RBIs on Saturday and Sunday.