Jeff Samardzija takes Tigers' best shot, delivers

CHICAGO -- Jeff Samardzija stayed gritty and determined until the last pitch Tuesday, wearing the welt he received just below his right elbow like a badge of honor.

The Chicago White Sox needed a dominating start from a member of the rotation and Samardzija delivered in fine style, throwing 105 pitches in a 5-2 victory over the first-place Detroit Tigers that ended a five-game losing streak.

On that final pitch, the former Notre Dame wide receiver took a line drive off his arm, tracking down the ball and making the throw to first base in time to give him his seven full innings. Even with a throwing motion that appeared compromised, Samardzija was intent on getting his man.

"I'm good," Samardzija said, showing the indentations made in his flesh by the seams of the baseball. "If [the Chicago Blackhawks' Brent] Seabrook can stay in the game taking a puck off the face, I can [make the play] with a ball off the arm."

That last play, though, was merely symbolic of how badly Samardzija wanted to rebound from a horrible start at Baltimore last week, and a team slide that had many fans looking for changes, especially with manager Robin Ventura.

"To judge this team right now, where we're at, is wrong," Samardzija said about the 9-14 White Sox. "We've got a great team here, we've got a lot of veteran guys who play their best baseball in the midseason, the late season, so right now we're just going out there and battling and we're going to keep pitching and keep hitting. We're going to turn this thing around. We're going to force it to turn around and we've got the guys to do it. There shouldn't be any worries."

The worries will dissipate if more players step up, as Samardzija did Tuesday. He bobbed and weaved in and out of trouble during the opening two innings, giving up an RBI single to Ian Kinsler four pitches into the game, and a home run to Alex Avila in the second inning.

By the fifth inning he was in another jam with two Tigers runners on base and Miguel Cabrera at the plate. All Samardzija did at that point was strike out the Tigers' slugger on three pitches.

"Yeah, let him beat us the other way," catcher Geovany Soto said about the plan to pitch to Cabrera on the outside part of the plate. "In that particular situation right there, that's why we stayed away later in the game if he had a runner on or a couple. [Samardzija] was dominating both corners of the plate and, as a hitter, it's a little bit tough to cover both sides of the plate, and that's where he was great today."

None of the fight Samardzija showed Tuesday was visible when he faced the Orioles in an empty Camden Yards on Wednesday. He gave up six first-inning runs after waiting two days to pitch, only to see the game moved to the day and without anybody in attendance because of civil unrest in the city. The White Sox lost 8-2 that day and went on to Minnesota where they lost four more times in four days.

"Obviously we're not going to hide behind anything," Samardzija said. "That was a terrible road trip for us, we weren't happy with the way it went. But to pat ourselves a little bit, it wasn't the most normal road trip in the world with what happened in Baltimore and everything.

"We just needed to regroup and understand that we have a great team here and we just need to go out and do what we do. We came out and played a strong game, and hopefully we can do it again tomorrow."

Now it falls on staff ace Chris Sale to follow Samardzija's lead when he takes the mound Wednesday against the Tigers. A victory from Sale, and the White Sox will have won all four of their home series this season, a surprising realization, considering how much they have struggled.

"The way last week's gone, for [Samardzija] to go out and compete and give us that kind of performance, great," Ventura said. "That's what he was brought here to do, and he did it and it was a big boost for us. The offense came through and pushed through in the [third] inning. It was a good night for us offensively and pitching."

On Wednesday, Samardzija is expected to drop his appeal of his five-game suspension for his role in an April 23 brawl against the Kansas City Royals, meaning his next outing will have to wait until Monday at Milwaukee. He can set the tone again that day, but what he really hopes is that Tuesday's start can get the team headed in the right direction for the rest of the week.

"Yeah, it's fun to go out there and do what I normally do and get back to normal," Samardzija said. "That last start [at Baltimore] stuck with me for a few days. It really hurt. I wasn't happy with it and that's not me. I wanted to come out and get back to normal.

"But we've got plenty of guys that can be the stopper on this team, which is exciting. We've got a great guy going [Wednesday, in Sale] and another following him [Jose Quintana]. It's nice to know anytime in those situations we've got guys we can go to."