CHICAGO -- After a solid spring training Jeff Samardzija continues to impress, giving the Chicago Cubs their first victory of the season Sunday, a 4-3 triumph over the Washington Nationals to avoid a sweep.
How it happened: Samardzija had an answer for a struggling bullpen: Limit its use. In his first start as the No. 3 man in the Cubs rotation, the right-hander was brilliant, going 8 2/3 innings. His previous career long was six innings. He gave up a run in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly after a run of 15 consecutive batters retired after Ian Desmond led off the game with a double. He also allowed a two-run homer to Adam LaRoche with two outs in the ninth. Carlos Marmol came on and got Xavier Nady to foul out to third to earn his first save of the year.
What it means: The Cubs have received three excellent starts from their starting rotation after three games, which means Chris Volstad has a standard to keep up when he takes the mound Monday against the Milwaukee Brewers. Not all starting staffs are doing so well in the early going. After three games, the New York Yankees starters have combined to throw 16 1/3 innings with 21 hits, nine walks, 13 runs and a 6.06 ERA.
Outside the box: Bryan LaHair hasn’t been very patient at the plate, much like his teammates, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be effective. LaHair was first-pitch swinging in his first two at-bats Sunday. Going back to his pinch-hit appearance Saturday, that meant LaHair had looked at three pitches in his first three at-bats of the season. But he took the count full in his third at-bat Sunday and delivered his second double of the game.
Off beat: The Cubs worked tirelessly this spring on making the quickest turns around the bases as possible without making a wide arc. So when Darwin Barney clipped the inside corner of the first-base bag and took off in a straight line toward second base on his sixth-inning double, the Nationals thought something looked amiss. They tried an appeal at first base thinking Barney must have missed the bag, but umpire Paul Nauert gave the safe sign to say everything was on the up and up.
Up next: Right-hander Volstad will take the mound Monday in the opener of a three-game series against Milwaukee. The Brewers will counter with right-hander Shaun Marcum in the Cubs’ first night home game of the season, a 6:05 p.m. start from Wrigley Field.