Sept. 24, 2009
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Jeff Samardzija has only 19 more homers to go to catch Carlos Zambrano.
Samardzija notched his first Major League home run with his first hit but also served up two blasts, including Prince Fielder's 42nd homer, as the Brewers beat the Cubs, 3-2, Wednesday in the series finale.
"I thought he was much improved," Lou Piniella said of Samardzija. "He's starting to look like a Major League pitcher. He sure ... looked like a Major League hitter.
This was Samardzija's second big league start, but the home run was his first big league hit. In his first start, on Aug. 12 against Philadelphia, the right-hander gave up seven runs on eight hits over 3 1/3 innings. On Wednesday, he gave up three runs on five hits and struck out two over five-plus innings.
"I felt good," Samardzija said. "We've been working on a handful of things throughout the year. It seemed like the last month when I was in Triple-A, we had it ironed out. It's been smoothing some things out with offspeed pitches. My arm felt good and I thought I made some good pitches."
Samardzija will likely get another start during the Cubs' final homestand next week. He is hoping to leave Piniella and the Cubs' front office thinking he could be in the rotation next season.
"I didn't want to let [the opportunity] slip away," he said.
"He's gotten better, to his credit," Piniella said of the former wide receiver. "He's worked hard. He's worked not just on a new delivery but on a little longer arc [with his arm], and his breaking ball has more depth to it. He threw stikes with his fastball. He hasn't pitched in a while, and he gave us five good innings of baseball. I was impressed. He has to keep working and try to get better."
The Miller Park radar gun registered Samardzija's fastballs at 99 mph at times. Fielder launched one just as fast over the fence in the Brewers' fourth, driving in Ryan Braun, who had singled. It was Fielder's 42nd homer, boosting his National League-leading RBIs total to 131.
"You look up there and it's 97, 98 [mph]," Cubs second baseman Jeff Baker said. "He's got power-pitcher stuff, a hard slider, breaking ball. I don't think guys in here view him as a football player. He's a baseball player. He'll probably be a starting pitcher for this team."
"I felt pretty good," Samardzija said, "and things can change when you stay back and get on top of the ball and drive it. I'm driving through the ball and using my body and legs better. It's easier to throw harder."
He also made hitting look easy in the sixth. Samardzija connected off Chris Narveson, driving the first pitch 370 feet into the second deck in right. He's the first Cubs player since Hee Seop Choi to homer for his first Major League hit. Choi homered on Sept. 8, 2002, off St. Louis' Jason Simontacchi.
"It's been in my pocket," Samardzija said of his hitting.
"I just went up there swinging, and the ball found the bat," Samardzija said. "I probably should've slowed down a little and maybe enjoyed it, because it might not happen [again] for a long time."
So he hasn't been taking lessons from Zambrano?
"I've been watching him," Samardzija said. "The ball comes in and it's, 'Swing as hard as you can and try to throw your back out.'"
"I told [bench coach Alan] Trammell, 'Why did I bunt him for in the third inning?'" Piniella said.
"I didn't think [Samardzija] would be ambushing right there," Narveson said. "I said to [catcher Jason Kendall], 'Did I get that pitch away?' and he just said, 'That was a bomb.' So I just smiled and walked off."
Samardzija was able to get the home run ball as a souvenir.
"I'll keep it," he said. "I've got all my Little League ones. I'll write on there how far it went and the date."
Jody Gerut also hit one far, adding a leadoff homer in the Milwaukee sixth, and Samardzija gave up a single to Braun before being pulled. Pinch-hitter Bobby Scales finished the Cubs' scoring with an RBI double in the seventh off David Weathers.
Narveson (1-1) struck out 10 over 5 2/3 innings for the win as the Brewers avoided a sweep. The Cubs are 12-6 in their past 18 games against National League Central teams. The loss helped reduce the St. Louis Cardinals' magic number to one to clinch the division.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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