Samardzija struggles for third straight start

CINCINNATI -- Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija almost always reports feeling good on the mound after his starts, no matter the outcome of the game. Wednesday was no different, even though he threw poorly for the third consecutive outing. How good can he feel after lasting 5 2/3 innings against the Cincinnati Reds while giving up six runs and throwing 114 pitches?

“I had good stuff out there,” Samardzija said after the 6-0 loss. “They made me work, I threw a lot of pitches in the first few innings. I attacked early, they were fouling pitches off.”

He’s right about one thing: the Reds were fouling pitches off. Fourteen in the first two innings. It drove up his pitch count and contributed to his struggles. But once again, how good could his stuff have been if the Reds were staying alive at the plate so often?

“I didn’t think it was all that bad until that last three-run homer because he gave up a couple on a couple of bloopers and a solo home run,” manager Dale Sveum said. “Other than the two home-run balls there wasn’t a lot of hard contact all day long.

“The pitch count was up early, then he got efficient the last four innings. But the foul balls. He got the ball up.”

And that’s why Samardzija can’t really claim his stuff was good. He left the ball up too often and either the Reds got on base or simply fouled the pitch off and worked the count deeper. Samardzija threw 44 pitches in the first two innings.

“I need to be a little more fine out there with one out, no outs so I’m not pitching in tough situations with runners on,” Samardzija said.

It all led to the sixth inning. Starlin Castro nearly got Samardzija out of the inning with a great play at shortstop, but Devin Mosoraco beat out an infield hit to put men on first and third with two outs. Samardzija was at 103 pitches and his day would have been done with an out.

“He’s a big horse, try to leave him out there to get out of it and obviously he couldn’t sustain that inning,” Sveum said.

Pinch-hitter Jack Hannahan took Samardzija’s 110th pitch out to right for a three-run homer. Game over. That’s three bad ones in a row for Samardzija. Twice he blew leads the Cubs gave him and this time he couldn’t keep his team in the game while they struggled on offense.

“I hold myself to a high standard,” Samardzija said. “The last three games I’ve had are not acceptable. Gotta keep working and keep getting better.”

After his last start Samardijza said simply racking up 200 innings isn’t good enough, he wants to have a strong finish. And though he’s never thrown a full season as a starter, he needs to battle through the final month and prove he can do it when the Cubs are a contending team.

Sveum was asked if Samardzija was physically tired.

“He probably won’t admit it, but I’d go out on a limb and say there is a combination of that and mentally wore out right now,” Sveum said.

At this point, having a reason -- or excuse -- for his issues might be better than simply saying “my stuff was good.” Samardzija is limping to the finish line -- his ERA rose to 4.44 -- and it can’t come soon enough.