Nats' third baseman and three-hole hitter Ryan Zimmerman talked to MLB Network Radio hosts Jeff Joyce and Jim Duquette this morning before the third and final game of the Washington Nationals' season-opening series with Chicago's Cubs in Wrigley Field, and the 27-year-old infielder spoke about facing hard-throwing 27-year-old right-hander Jeff Samardzija this afternoon in Samardzija's first start of the season after working almost exclusively out of the bullpen at the major league level before this season. "I think everyone's interested to see how he throws as a starter," Zimmerman said, "I mean, obviously, coming out of the pen he has electric stuff, but that's coming in for one, two innings innings at the most. So it will be interesting to see how he kind of changes his approach as a starter and if he tries to come out and just go for it like he did out of the pen or if he's kind of working himself up. But he's a great pitcher with great stuff so we know we have a tough road ahead today."
125 of Samardzija's 128 career appearances for the Cubs have come in relief, though the '06 5th Round pick out of Notre Dame did make 86 starts over five seasons in the Cubs' system. Samardzija pitched exclusively out of the bullpen last season, going (8-4) with a 2.97 ERA, a 3.66 FIP, 50 walks (5.11 BB/9) and 87 K's (8.90 K/9) in 75 games and 88.0 IP. To hear the 6'5'', 225 lb former Fighting Irish wide receiver tell it though, as he did in an article by CBSChicago's Adam Hoge entitled, "Samardzija All But Locks Down Rotation Spot", he'd have preferred to have been starting all along:
"'That’s what I’ve been preaching for years now. I want to be an athlete, I want to hit, I want to run the bases, I want to field my position. So to put it on paper and show that I can do it, it means a lot to me.'"
Samardzija earned the job with his performance this Spring, going (3-1) in five starts and 20.0 IP over which he allowed 19 hits, 10 runs, 1 HR and just one walk while recording 16 K's, and 10 of the hits and seven earned runs came in one particularly rough outing against the Colorado Rockies, after which he bounced back with six scoreless innings against the Cleveland Indians in which he allowed just three hits and earned himself the third spot in the Cubs' Opening Day rotation.
In his first start at the major league level since late September of 2010 this afternoon in Wrigley Field, Samardzija dominated the Nationals, allowing just one hit through five, a leadoff double by Ian Desmond that started the first, and retiring fifteen straight batters after Desmond reached base before Wilson Ramos' leadoff single in the sixth. The Cubs' right-hander gave up a run on a sac fly in the Nats' sixth, but kept rolling, retiring the Nats in order in the seventh and eighth, and he was one out away from a complete game win in the ninth when a throwing error by Starlin Castro on a grounder to short by Ryan Zimmerman gave the Nationals an extra out. After a visit from manager Dale Sveum, Samardzija gave up a two-out, two-run HR by Adam LaRoche and was lifted in favor of Cubs' closer Carlos Marmol, who closed out the win. 4-3 final.
Samardzija's line: 8.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K's, 1 HR, 80 pitches, 57 strikes, 9/8 GO/FO. As MLB.com's Carrie Muskat noted after today's game in an article entitled, "Samardzija superb to put Cubs in win column", the right-hander, "... was effective, throwing first-pitch strikes to all but five of the 31 batters he faced," and collecting a career-high eight K's in what, "... was his longest career outing." Good as Samardzija was, was it more about the Nationals' hitters, who went (as the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore noted on Twitter @AdamKilgoreWP), "... 9 for 72 with four walks in innings 1 through 7," against Chicago's starters, striking out 25 times as a team in the first three games?The Nationals' offense struggled in the first series of the season, but that doesn't take anything away from Samardzija, who made an impressive return to the rotation and outdueled Nats' starter Jordan Zimmermann.
More on the Nats' starter soon...