CHICAGO | Jeff Samardzija is an ace pitcher with hardly any victories.
The two factors seem incongruous, but in the strip-down-to-rebuild Cubs program, place-holders dot both the lineup and bullpen. A starter like Valparaiso native Samardzija can out-pitch most of his contemporaries and still come up almost empty.
How could Samardzija sport a 2-6 record going into Monday’s game with the White Sox to go along with a 3.25 ERA with 50 hits and 72 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings?
The answer was brutally cold for “Shark.” Cubs hitters scored just 28 runs in his previous 10 starts. Only once had the lineup scored as many as six runs in a game for Samardzija, and then there’s the flammable bullpen.
“We got a couple of guys in the same boat,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of rotation members working without reward. “It’s too bad. The good thing is he’s pitching well. Obviously, he’s improved from the first half of last season. He’s been really, really good his last 16, 17 starts.”
But for one night, Samardiza’s luck appeared to turn against the White Sox. He tossed a two-hit shutout with eight strikeouts while his teammates racked up their biggest run support of the season for him.
An Alfonso Soriano single in the first and two-run homer by fill-in center fielder Julio Bordon netted him a 3-0 lead by the fifth.
Two innings later, Samardzija looked up at a 7-0 lead. A three-run seventh was highlighted by an Anthony Rizzo RBI triple.
Meanwhile, he did his part on the mound. Employing a fastball timed between 95 and 98 mph, Samardzija allowed singles to Conor Gillaspie in the third and Alexei Ramirez in the ninth. He also used a sharp-breaking slider and splitter to strike out eight Sox.
“There’s no question (he’s a No. 1 starter),” Dunn said. “He’s a power-arm guy, but he locates all of his pitches. He’s definitely a front-of-the-rotation guy.”
Sox captain Paul Konerko also had praiseworthy analysis.
“(Won-lost) record, when it comes to starting pitching, obviously there’s a lot of stuff that’s not in his control,” he said. “He’s got good stuff. The ball moves a lot.
“He throws enough strikes to make you swing the bat. He keeps the ball down well. He’s turned himself into a really good big-league starter – I’ve seen a couple of his starts on TV -- and tough competitor, too.”