CHICAGO (AP) — Jeff Samardzija felt he had something to prove. He certainly made his point on the mound.
Samardzija dominated into the ninth, outpitching Jordan Zimmermann, and the Chicago Cubs beat the Washington Nationals 4-3 Sunday for their first win of the Theo Epstein era.
Samardzija (1-0) made it clear he wanted a spot in the rotation and was simply spectacular in his sixth career start, allowing four hits and an earned run. He struck out eight without a walk as the Cubs shook off two wrenching losses to start the season.
“I’ve talked a good game about wanting to start and made it public,” Samardzija said. “I didn’t want to look like an idiot.”
Instead, he made the Nationals look bad, and the Cubs came away with the win after some late drama.
There were no bullpen meltdowns this time after Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol failed to hold late leads in each of the first two games, but things certainly got interesting in the ninth.
Ryan Zimmerman reached when Starlin Castro bounced a throw to first after fielding a two-out grounder to shortstop. Samardzija stayed in after a visit from manager Dale Sveum — who was booed when he came out and cheered when he went back to the dugout — and Adam LaRoche drilled his second two-run homer in two games, sending a drive to the seats in right that cut it to 4-3.
Marmol came in and walked Jayson Werth before Xavier Nady fouled out to Castro near the third base dugout to end the game for his first save.
“(Samardzija’s) developed pitches over the last couple years with that cutter, and now, he’s got that split,” said catcher Steve Clevenger, who caught Samardzija in the minors. “He can throw it any time and any count. It makes him tough on hitters.”
The Nationals certainly were impressed.
“He had three good pitches and he was out there grinding,” Ian Desmond said. “He was anywhere from 98 (mph) to 90 with his fastball and had his split, the occasional cut. . He was out there, he was pumping strikes.”
Alfonso Soriano drove in two runs, with a sacrifice fly in the fourth and run-scoring single off Zimmermann (0-1) in the sixth to give Chicago a 2-1 lead after Washington tied it in the top half.
Castro had two hits, scored twice and stole two bases. He doubled in a run off Ryan Mattheus and scored on Ian Stewart’s single in a two-run eighth, sending Chicago to its first win under the new regime.
The Cubs brought in Epstein as president of baseball operations hoping he can help them capture their first championship since 1908 after he put together two title-winning teams in Boston, ending an 86-year drought. Chicago also hired his former Red Sox colleague Jed Hoyer as general manager and Sveum as manager to replace the fired Mike Quade.
They didn’t get much off Zimmermann, who held them to two runs — one earned — and six hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the eighth. With the Cubs being aggressive or impatient, he threw just 80 pitches and did not walk a batter, but the Nationals came up short after pulling out two dramatic wins.
Samardzija, primarily a reliever for four seasons, gave up a double by Desmond to start the game and retired 15 straight before Wilson Ramos led off the sixth with a single. He came around on Danny Espinosa’s sacrifice fly.
That little glitch and the homer aside, Samardzija couldn’t have made a stronger argument. He had said he wanted a spot in the rotation — not the bullpen — and he certainly made a strong pitch on Sunday.
“Obviously, I can take a deep breath now and really go out and concentrate on what I need to do game to game and make adjustments,” Samardzija said. “It’s nice to get off on the right foot.”
NOTES: Sveum got a few reminders about his memorable Easter Sunday homer 25 years ago for the Brewers against Kansas City — a game-ending shot that capped a 6-4 comeback win and put Milwaukee at 12-0. The Brewers went on to tie a major league record by winning their first 13 games. “I actually forgot all about it until I got a few texts from the clubbies out in Milwaukee,” Sveum said. He spent the previous six seasons on Milwaukee’s coaching staff and will see his former team when the Brewers open a four-game series at Wrigley Field on Monday. … Shaun Marcum starts Monday for Milwaukee against the Cubs’ Chris Volstad, who came to Chicago from Miami in the Carlos Zambrano deal. … The Nationals open a three-game series at the Mets on Monday, with Edwin Jackson making his Washington debut and Mike Pelfrey starting for New York.
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