Pirates clinch as Samardzija learns

CHICAGO -- It’s not something Chicago Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija or his teammates want to see: back-to-back days on which their opponent is celebrating a playoff berth on the Cubs' home field.

The Atlanta Braves did it on Sunday and the Pittsburgh Pirates did it on Monday after a dramatic 2-1 victory in which Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz was thrown out at home to end the game. The Cubs would like to do some clinching someday -- at home, on the road, anywhere.

“We mentioned that to each other. That’s what it’s all about,” Samardzija said after a six-inning, one-run performance. “That’s why you work in the offseason and in the spring training and why you get off to a fast start in April and May.”

The Cubs put in the work but never did see that fast start. But it doesn’t mean steps haven’t been taken. Samardzija got to 200 innings for the first time this season, and, while it looked like it might be a meaningless stat the way he was pitching a few weeks ago, he’s finishing strong. He has gone 13 innings giving up 10 hits and four runs in his past two starts after 11/17/12 in his previous two.

“He threw [the] ball really well,” manager Dale Sveum said. “His cutter was getting swung and missed at more than it has all year.”

And Samardzija is learning along the way. Learning how to face a team multiple times in a season, as he did the Pirates.

“Fifth, sixth time I faced them this year,” he said. “You have to keep adjusting to what you’re doing against them.”

And he’s still learning how to prepare as a starter. He’ll be heading into his third season in that role in 2014. Time to blossom.

“I’ll definitely change up my routine in the offseason,” Samardzija said. “I think I took too much time off right out of the gates in the offseason.”

But most of all, Samardzija is simply learning how to pitch. His Achilles' heel has been the big inning. His high ERA (4.33) is a result of some crooked numbers “wrapped up in a few innings,” as Sveum put it. Eliminating those moments will turn him into a complete pitcher.

“It’s a big swing,” Samardzija said. “There have been other times in the year where I’ve given up two or three in the inning instead of keeping the damage down. That’s the most important thing for a pitcher.

“There are times I haven’t done that. That’s been the story of the year.”

So he gets it. He gets what fans and media have been saying about him. And how he has left people wanting more. Teammate Travis Wood, for example, has done everything Samardzija should be doing. Maybe next season. And maybe next season -- or soon after -- good things will start to happen for the team as well.

“We’re getting there,” Samardzija said. “We need to get some things ironed out and get this team mentally in a spot where that’s [what] we’re shooting for.”

For the team and Samardzija alike.