CHICAGO - Jeff Samardzija pumped his fastball in at up to 98 mph, located a hard, biting slider on the corners and mixed in some quality changeups down in the zone.
Making just his sixth career start, the Cubs righty had Nationals hitters guessing all afternoon, and allowed just one run until Adam LaRoche’s two-run home run in the ninth inning made it a 4-3 game.
By then, it was too late for another comeback, and led by Samardzija, the Cubs snuck out of Wrigley with a one-run win.
“He pitched a heck of a ballgame,” manager Davey Johnson said. “Outstanding effort on his part. He kept us off-balance.”
How good was Samardzija today? Even LaRoche, who gave the Nats a chance in the ninth by crushing his second two-run homer in as many days, said he didn’t see the Cubs righty well all day.
“Shoot, I still don’t have him figured out,” LaRoche said. “I went up there in three at-bats and I felt good today and he just carved me up. Some good pitches, I went outside the zone a couple times and when I didn’t, he’s throwing what I’m not looking for. Just kind of one of those days where things went his way on top of having great stuff.”
LaRoche’s two-run blast might’ve done more to help the comeback cause if not for two runs the Nats allowed in the bottom of the eighth. On the Wrigley Field mound for the second straight day, reliever Ryan Mattheus walked Cubs right fielder David DeJesus leading off the eighth, then allowed an RBI double to Starlin Castro two batters later.
Castro then came around to score on an Ian Stewart single, giving the Cubs two huge insurance runs.
“I felt if we could stay within one run, I felt we’d win the ballgame,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, the leadoff walk in the bottom of the eighth by Mattheus, and then they scored two runs. I still thought we had a pretty good chance. But you’ve got to tip your hat to the other guy.”
Mattheus said he didn’t have a problem with pitching on back-to-back days this early in the season, adding that this is the ideal time for consecutive appearances, when a pitcher’s arm is still fresh. He just wasn’t able to duplicate the success he had yesterday, when he threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts.
“I just fell behind in the count, couldn’t make that last pitch to DeJesus and he got a leadoff walk and then I hung a slider to Castro,” Mattheus said. “I’ve got to get the ball down and can’t walk that leadoff guy, either. That always comes back to get you.
“I felt great today. I felt like my stuff was just as good as it was the day before, I just didn’t locate where I needed to.”