Cubs back Samardzija's gem in Cincinnati

Cubs back Samardzija's gem in Cincinnati

Cubs back Samardzija's gem in Cincinnati
CINCINNATI -- Bryan LaHair provided the power, Jeff Samardzija threw strikes, Ian Stewart finally came through, Geovany Soto delivered when needed and the Cubs made the plays on defense Wednesday night in a well-played 3-1 win over the Reds.

Samardzija (3-1) was solid, striking out seven and scattering three hits over 7 2/3 innings.

"That's the best we've seen probably this year against us," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Usually he doesn't have that kind of command and control. Our reports say he's throwing the ball good, and you could see he was at 95-98 [mph], and when he left, he was throwing 95-96. He threw the ball great against us. It wasn't us tonight; it was him."

Samardzija threw first-pitch strikes to all but three of the first 15 batters he faced. He also maintained his velocity throughout the game, ranging from 94-98 mph. So far, he's passed the tests.

"It seems like things keep getting more and more important," Samardzija said. "It was important to have a good spring, it was important to have a good start. As the season goes on, it'll be important to finish strong.

"It's a game where you have to keep proving yourself throughout the season and can't get complacent. You can't think your spot is safe. Someone is always nipping on your toes and you've got to keep pushing."

LaHair has felt that enough in his career. He led off the second with his sixth home run, launching a 2-2 pitch from Bronson Arroyo (1-1) into the center-field seats. He has hit more than half of the Cubs' home runs (now 11) this year, and has reached base safely in 20 straight games, the longest streak by a Cubs first baseman since Derrek Lee did so in 21 consecutive games, July 31-Aug. 22, 2009.

"I played with LaHair the past two years in Triple-A and saw him do this every day," Samardzija said. "He's a gamer, man, and he's clutch, too, which I think we'll see as the season goes on. He takes great at-bats, especially late in the game, and makes the pitcher work. He's a tough out. I've seen that for a long time, so it's no surprise for me."

Stewart hasn't had such success. He entered the game batting .169, but he made it 2-0 with his second homer with two outs in the fourth. Stewart was hitting several balls into the right-field seats during early batting practice.

"It's not as bad as the numbers look," Sveum said in support of Stewart, whom the manager says has had a lot of "bad luck" at the plate.

Knowing that he's hitting balls hard is helping Stewart get through a slow start.

"That's probably the only thing keeping me sane," Stewart said. "I don't know how many line-drive outs I've had this year, but I could probably count them on two hands. That's part of the game, and if that happens, and I'm swinging the bat well, and the numbers aren't there, there is still a lot to take away from the swings I'm taking and those at-bats.

"I feel like out of four at-bats, I'm putting together two, sometimes three quality at-bats a game almost, and if I just keep hitting like that, I think eventually those are going to fall."

Stewart isn't usually a slow starter, and doesn't feel as if he's hitting as bad as the statistics show.

"It's a slow start when you look at the numbers on paper but ... I've been hitting balls hard, kind of 'at 'em' balls," he said. "I feel if I keep getting my work in with Rudy [Jaramillo, hitting coach] and Dale and keep being aggressive, those will turn into extra-base hits."

The Reds tallied in the fourth when a run scored on a double play. Soto delivered his RBI single with two outs in the sixth. It was his first hit with runners in scoring position after going 0-for-10 in such situations.

"That was huge," Sveum said of Soto's hit.

Samardzija got lots of help, including a nice stop by third baseman Stewart of Drew Stubbs' hard-hit ball in the fourth, and a quick flip by second baseman Blake DeWitt after he belly-flopped on the dirt to ignite a double play and end the Reds fifth. Alfonso Soriano contributed as well, making plays in left field.

"When 'Sori' is out there making plays and 'Stewie' makes that awesome play, it makes your job a whole lot easier," Samardzija said.

A win on Thursday in the series finale and the Cubs could finish this road trip, 4-2. That's not bad for a team supposedly in a rebuilding mode.

"We didn't have a team meeting and say, 'This is a rebuilding year,'" Samardzija said. "We want to win games. Every day you get a chance to win games. We might have to do it a different way than say the Yankees or somebody, but pitching and defense goes a long way.

"It is a learning process with this team -- a lot of new guys," he said. "We're just going to keep getting better every day and whoever we're playing, just give them what we've got."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.