Samardzija still adjusting to new role

MIAMI -- Three outings into his role as a member of the Chicago Cubs starting rotation and Jeff Samardzija is getting mixed reviews.

His brilliant 8 2/3-inning outing against the Washington Nationals during the opening weekend of the season shows what he is capable of doing when he is on his game. He even stood tall against the St. Louis Cardinals for four innings in his second start.

But ever since the fifth inning of that second outing, Samardzija has found himself on the ropes. Struggling to get first-pitch strikes Tuesday against the Miami Marlins, Samardzija found himself in more trouble and took his first loss of the season.

“They did a great job of making me battle all day and I need to be better with my first-pitch strike,” Samardzija said. “I need to get that leadoff hitter of the inning too.”

Forget about trying to get Samardzija to say that his 110-pitch debut was taxing. He isn’t the type to complain. He took a line drive off his right hand Thursday and convinced the coaching staff to let him stay in the game.

Whether or not the long first outing took its toll, the facts remain that in a 103-pitch outing against the St. Louis Cardinals last Friday he was knocked around for five runs on 10 hits in five innings. Then came Thursday’s outing when he had trouble finding the plate, walking five in just 3 2/3 innings.

He threw only 88 pitches Thursday but because they were compacted into less than four full innings it wasn’t as if he got off any easier.

“I feel great and I felt awesome today,” Samardzija said. “The arm feels unbelievable. I really feel I can go out and throw 120, 125 pitches, but I need to be taking that mental approach of not even getting into that 100-pitch mark. Just pound the zone and let my defense work behind me.”

His next outing could be telling. Not only does he have a chance to move in a positive direction, he will get a chance to see a team for the second time. He is scheduled to next face the Cardinals on Tuesday in a night game at Wrigley Field, 11 days after last seeing them in St. Louis.

“Strike one hasn’t been so easy lately and that changes things around a lot, especially against an aggressive team,” manager Dale Sveum said. “His split-finger, he couldn’t get that going and it was up. His secondary stuff was a little flat. Velocity was fine but command of the cutter early was killing him.”