ST. LOUIS — Jeff Samardzija appears to have made the most of his time in the minors this year.

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The former Notre Dame football star pitched shutout ball in his first major league start this season and drove in a run to lead the Chicago Cubs past the St. Louis Cardinals 5-1 on Monday night.

Samardzija was sent down to the minors after going 0-1 with an 18.30 ERA in 3 1/3 innings in April. Rather than sulk, he went to work.

“Taking a positive out of a negative, being down there all year, you really get a lot of opportunity to throw, because it’s not live-or-die situations all the time,” Samardzija said.

The Cardinals fell seven games behind first-place Cincinnati in the NL Central. The Reds beat Arizona 7-2 and reduced their magic number to 13 for clinching the division title.

Samardzija (1-1) filled in admirably for Carlos Silva, scratched due to pain in his pitching elbow. In his first big league appearance since April 19, the right-hander allowed six hits in 5 2/3 innings. He walked four and struck out one.

“It was definitely the hard way to do it,” Samardzija said. “There were a couple too many walks in there.”

St. Louis had several scoring opportunities, but Samardzija was able to wiggle out of trouble.

“We had the leadoff guy on base four or five times,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “We had our RBI guys up. We hit a couple balls hard. We had some chances, just couldn’t break through.”

Cubs interim manager Mike Quade said Samardzija will get another start this weekend in Florida.

“He did a lot of damage with his soft game,” Quade said. “His arm strength is what it is. He did a good job against a nice club.”

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Geovany Soto went 3 for 3 with an RBI single and reached base all four times up. Alfonso Soriano drove in two runs and Kosuke Fukudome had an RBI single for the Cubs.

Matt Holliday drove in the Cardinals’ run with a two-out RBI single in the seventh off reliever Andrew Cashner.

The Cubs did most of their damage against rookie starter Jaime Garcia (13-8), who dropped his second consecutive decision. Garcia lasted six innings and allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits and a walk while striking out four.

“I was just trying to go out there and compete and give us a chance to stay in the game,” Garcia said. “It was a big game for us, obviously. I’m not happy.”

Samardzija helped himself in the second when the Cubs jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Aramis Ramirez led off with a double and went to third on Xavier Nady’s infield single. Soto hit an RBI single and, two outs later, Samardzija singled to right in his first at-bat of the season to score Nady.

“I think I got lucky there,” Samardzija said. “Broke my bat, but it had eyes. You’ll take them any time you can get them.”

In the next inning, the Cubs scored two unearned runs with the help of an error by second baseman Skip Schumaker, who couldn’t handle a throw from shortstop Brendan Ryan. Chicago loaded the bases with two outs and Soriano drove in two runs with a single to left.

Fukudome added a run-scoring single in the eighth.


* Cubs rookie shortstop Starlin Castro was a late scratch due to a sore left hip.
* Cardinals third baseman Pedro Feliz grounded into double plays his first two times up and has just four hits in his last 46 at-bats.
* Cubs RF Tyler Colvin came out with a bruised left elbow after being hit by a pitch from Garcia in the third.
* Ryan went 1 for 3, ending a streak of four straight multihit games.
* The Cubs are 12-7 since Quade took over from Lou Piniella.
* The Cardinals are 16-24 against the Cubs, Astros and Brewers. Those three NL Central teams are a combined 35 games under .500.

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