ST. LOUIS -- When he takes the mound Thursday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals for his ninth start of the season, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija knows all eyes will be on him as he attempts to win his first game of the year.
More importantly, the Cubs will try to win for just the second time during one of his starts even though he's produced a 1.45 ERA through his first eight.
Samardzija became the first pitcher since at least 1900 to give up three or fewer runs in his first eight starts and not earn at least one victory. It prompted teammate Travis Wood to give him a hug and jokingly apologize to him after the Cubs scored 17 runs in support of Wood's win over the Cardinals on Monday. Samardzija is averaging 1.88 runs of support per game so far, second-fewest in all of baseball.
"He wasn't lying," Samardzija said of Wood, smiling. "We did joke about it."
Samardzija is taking his season in stride. After all, his 0-3 record doesn't take away from the year he's putting together. He's taken his game to another level becoming more efficient, pitching to contact and getting through innings quicker. He's simply pitching with less stress than ever before.
"On the back of baseball card terminology, is it tough?" Samardzija asked about not having a win. "Yeah, absolutely, but I don't look at that. That's not how I judge my season.
"When you have a 14-game win streak going it's easy to get complacent and stop doing what you're doing. For me, what I've learned, run support or no run support, you do your job. You stick to your routine which ultimately keeps you in that [bubble] with blinders on. Your comfort is your routine."
Players often talk about routine and how sticking with it gets them through good times and bad. Samardzija's attitude seems to be in the right place. His teammates say he hasn't broken a watercooler or turned over a table. Not when the defense has let him down or when the Cubs have been shut out with him on the mound. Not even when the bullpen has blown a game for him in the most heartbreaking of ways. Maybe he's getting used to it.
"As an individual it's about how you deal with it," Samardzija said. "Are you doing everything you can between starts? Are you letting it get to you? That's when it becomes an issue."
And Samardzija is convinced things will even out over the long haul. That could be on the Cubs or another team. Either way, his progression as a pitcher has been a story in itself. From reliever, to first-time starter, to ace.
"I remember pitching for [manager Ryne] Sandberg in Triple-A, a few years back and I had like a 1.50 ERA all the way through the season, after I got sent down in early April. I went to Albuquerque and gave up like eight runs with [general manager] Jim Hendry in the stands, and he came over and told me, 'Numbers don't lie. One start doesn't matter. We can look back at your season, we know what you've done.' That changes the way you look at numbers in the broad spectrum of things."
How low can Samardzija's ERA go before he gets a win? It's already second-best in the majors heading into Thursday's start. Most fans are simply wondering how the Cubs will blow the game for him. They keep on coming up with new ways.
"That stuff only carries as much water as you let it carry," Samardzija said. "It's unfortunate, but that's the way the game goes."