By Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune –
PITTSBURGH — Jeff Samardzija threw his last pitch of the 2012 season Saturday night at PNC Park, but really isn’t finished playing baseball.
Manager Dale Sveum said before the 4-3 complete-game victory over the Pirates that Samardzija still will be available as a pinch-runner in case he doesn’t want to burn a position player from his expanded roster.
But the loss of Samardzija to the Cubs’ rotation is sure to be felt, and the ace by default went out with a bang, batting in the eighth hole for the first time, ticking off the Pirates by hitting star outfielder Andrew McCutchen and throwing the team’s first complete game of 2012.
Samardzija wanted to end the year as strong as he started on April 8 at Wrigley Field, when he was one out from his first complete game before Starlin Castro’s error and a two-run home run by the Nationals’ Adam LaRoche forced his removal.
Samardzija (9-13) threw a season-high 120 pitches, exceeding his previous longest outing, a 113-pitch start against the White Sox on May 18. He allowed three runs on four hits with nine strikeouts, finishing the season with a team-leading 180.
David DeJesus’s RBI single in the eighth gave Samardzija the lead, and Sveum let him start the ninth instead of bringing in closer Carlos Marmol.
“Sometimes when it’s your No. 1 guy, you basically say it’s his game,” Sveum said beforehand. “So we might leave him out there (longer). That’s how you think as a manager — it’s his game. … We’re not worrying about what’s going on in next start, so it does help.”
On Friday, Samardzija said he wouldn’t get too geeked up, as he did at times in June, leading to his only bad stretch of the season.
“I’m going to pitch my game, throw some strikes early and really try and pitch deep into the game and end on a strong note,” he said. “That means a lot to me for sure.”
The game got off to an interesting start when Samardzija hit McCutchen in the hip with a runner on second and one out in the Pirates’ two-run first. Pittsburgh starter James McDonald responded by plunking Anthony Rizzo in the back in the third, clearly angering the Cubs’ first baseman, who kept his cool and headed to first.
Plate umpire Scott Barry issued warnings to both teams and things calmed down thereafter.
Sveum’s La Russa-esque strategy of using Samardzija in the No. 8 hole, ahead of Tony Campana, had mixed results. Samardzija was hitting .106 with three RBIs coming in, while Campana was hitting .256.
Sveum said he liked the idea of having two leadoff men in Campana and David DeJesus, and that he might do it again, though he made no commitment.
Samardzija came up with runners in scoring positions and two outs in his first two at-bats, but hit into inning-ending grounders on both occasions. But Campana started rallies with hits in both the third and fifth innings, reaching base three times and scoring twice.
Though his record doesn’t show it, Samardzija was the Cubs’ most consistent starter from April into September in his first full year in the rotation. He posted a 2.70 ERA in his final 11 starts after the All-Star break.