PITTSBURGH -- Maybe an earlier version of Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija doesn’t get out of the first inning on Monday. And maybe he doesn’t go on to pitch a gem in the season opener, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates, 3-1.
But Samardzija has grown up, and after walking the leadoff man -- his only free pass of the day -- then dealing with an error on an easy ground ball to second base, he buckled down.
“Getting out of that first inning was big after that leadoff walk,” Samardzija said afterwards.
He got a groundout and two strikeouts and never looked back.
“He pitched a heck of a game,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He did his job and we came away with a victory.”
When informed of his manager's words, Samardzija responded, “Pitch is the key word there. I really thought it was one of the best-pitched games I’ve thrown. Didn’t have the best stuff that I’ve had. I worked both sides of the plate and really attacked their hitters.”
Samardzija is being modest. His off-speed pitches kept hitters off-balance to the tune of nine strikeouts in eight innings. Along with that lone walk, he gave up just two hits.
“That’s probably as good a game as he’s pitched in his starting career,” Sveum raved.
And to come on opening day is that much sweeter. In some ways Samardzija won the job by default, due to Matt Garza's ongoing injury issues, but then again he put himself in a place to win it.
“I’ve been trying to keep myself calm for a few days,” Samardzija said. “Yesterday (the off day) allowed me to sit around and take a deep breath.”
Another key to his performance, as well as a sign of his growth, was how he was able to keep his pitch count down as his counterpart AJ Burnett's soared.
“We had a clean three innings there (third through fifth) that really kept our pitch count down that got me into the third part of the game and we went from there,” Samardzija said.
He was at 40 pitches after two innings but averaged just under 12 for the final six. It saved the bullpen, which was needed in the ninth inning.
“I didn’t think about taking him out of the game after the seventh inning,” Sveum said.
Samardzija added: “I want to go 100 pitches every time out and be efficient.”
He went 110 and started his season as the Cubs' No. 1 pitcher in fine fashion.