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Samardzija recovers to lead Cubs over Rockies

Starter comes off All-Star break allowing just one run in 7 1/3 innings

DENVER -- The two trips to Wrigley Field over the All-Star break with pitching coach Chris Bosio paid off for Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija on Friday night. Finally feeling comfortable on the rubber, Samardzija allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings in leading the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the Rockies at Coors Field.

Those changes may offer a partial explanation for how Samardzija tossed a gem nine days after he surrendered nine runs in 4 2/3 innings in an ugly 13-2 loss to the Angels. The competition may have helped as well -- two of his best starts have come against Colorado, as the right-hander gave up only five hits and two runs over eight innings in a victory at Wrigley Field in mid-May.

"If you were to ask me all year how I felt about my mechanics, I'd say they were off all year, to tell you the truth, until today," Samardzija said. "So I'm really excited to stop making adjustments and really just work on pitch selection and pitch location."

His fastball hitting its spots early, Samardzija fooled a free-swinging but potent Rockies lineup with a sinker that dived out of the strike zone. The right-hander struck out six, three of them coming in the seventh against the heart of the Rockies' order.

"I just attacked them and went at it, and once I felt like I got them sped up, my splitter was good enough to get me through the rest of the inning," Samardzija said.

For six innings Friday, a solo home run from Alfonso Soriano in the fourth that cruised over the center-field wall was the only run the Cubs could muster. The 389th homer of Soriano's career bumped him into a tie for 57th on the All-Time home runs list.

But two innings after striking out to strand runners at first and third, Anthony Rizzo redeemed himself with a two-out double to deep right off Rockies reliever Edgmer Escalona (1-3), scoring Cody Ransom, who had walked ahead of him. While the Rockies threw out Rizzo at third as he attempted to stretch a double into a triple, it was enough for the Cubs to fasten their grip on the victory. Darwin Barney drove in Cole Gillespie to add insurance in the ninth.

The series-opening victory was Chicago's seventh in its last 10 games, and the Cubs have taken three of four from the Rockies this year. The club also improved to 14 games over .500 in games when their starter earned a quality start.

Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler answered Soriano's homer with a solo shot of his own in the fourth, smoking the first pitch he saw -- a Samardzija cutter -- off the top of the center-field wall to knot the score at 1.

Defense saved Chicago from throwing away the lead later in the fourth. Michael Cuddyer punched a single to right after Troy Tulowitzki singled to a similar spot, and the Rockies shortstop was at third when a splitter skipped through the legs of catcher Welington Castillo. But Castillo rifled a throw to Samardzija at home plate with enough velocity to tag out Tulowitzki and end the inning, the Cubs starter tumbling to the ground before walking to the dugout.

"That's one of those things you don't write up," Samardzija said. "It's just a freak play, and it worked out in our favor."

On a night where hits were scarce -- the teams combined for 13 -- Junior Lake, appearing in his first big league game, finished 3-for-4 with a double and two singles. Despite making it to third base twice, Lake never scored, but he showed the potential to be a sparkplug for the Cubs' offense.

"Since I've been here, that's the first kid that's come up and really looked like a Major Leaguer," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "Was aggressive on the bases, did a great job. Swung the bat really nice."

Before Friday's game, Sveum thought about placing the speedy Lake in the leadoff spot. But that plan changed quickly when Lake told his skipper he planned to swing at the first pitch -- and true to his words, he did, roping a double down the third-base line in his first at-bat.

"I was just positive the whole time," Lake said through a translator. "I think once you have that mindset going in the game, you're ready for it, and you have that kind of attitude, I think a lot of the things go your way."

After striking out all three batters in the seventh, Samardzija was yanked in the eighth after walking two of the first three batters he faced. Pedro Strop relieved Samardzija, getting two quick outs to preserve the win for Chicago's starter.

"He was throwing 96 with an 83-mph splitter that was on tonight," Cuddyer said.

Though his night did not last as long as the Cubs' starter's, Jorge De La Rosa matched Samardzija through six innings. De La Rosa tossed six innings and allowed just a single run, striking out four and walking three before Escalona took over.

Closer Kevin Gregg allowed a leadoff double in the ninth but escaped with his 18th save when Cuddyer grounded into a game-ending double play.

Ian McCue is an associate reporter for
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