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Samardzija's strong start not enough against Phils

Ace allows two runs in seven innings as Cubs rotation rolls on

CHICAGO -- Jeff Samardzija posted the fourth quality start in five games for the Cubs. Emilio Bonifacio and Starlin Castro got on base five times. Now, if the Cubs could just drive runners in -- and keep Chase Utley quiet -- they might turn things around.

Utley had three hits, including his second home run in as many games, and scored the Phillies' second run to post a 2-0 victory Saturday over the Cubs in front of 30,651 fans bundled up to deal with the brisk game-time temperature of 39 degrees.

Samardzija took the loss in his first start at Wrigley Field this season, giving up six hits over seven innings and striking out eight. It was the fourth quality start in five games for a Cubs pitcher, and the Chicago starters now have a 1.95 ERA this season (seven earned runs over 32 1/3 innings).

"Jeff went out there with a lot of fire in him. He knew he did the best he could to keep us in the ballgame," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He got us through some tough patches. You've got to tip your hat to him, he did a great job."

Samardzija had a tough opponent in the Phillies' Cliff Lee, who looked more like a Cy Young winner than the pitcher who served up eight runs on Opening Day to the Rangers.

"They had their fair share of hits," Lee said of the Cubs. "I was able to make pitches when I needed to. ... I just had to make pitches in situations where they were one swing away from tying it up or taking a lead. But yeah, seven innings, no runs, I'll take that every time."

Renteria, still waiting to hear "Go Cubs Go" played after a home win, loaded the lineup with right-handed hitters Mike Olt, Junior Lake and Justin Ruggiano against Lee, who was the third left-handed starter the Cubs have faced in five games. Lee shrugged it off and scattered 10 hits over seven innings.

But the Cubs didn't help themselves, stranding 10 runners, and now are 4-for-40 with runners in scoring position in five games.

"You do have to be relaxed and know the pitcher is on the ropes a little bit," Renteria said. "You talk about it and see if it starts to take hold, an understanding of that particular situation, so guys can be a little more relaxed."

Samardzija knows his teammates are doing everything they can.

"I see these guys work every day and I know what they're doing," Samardzija said. "If it was a different situation and I thought they were lazy, it'd be different. Guys come to work every day and do everything they can. It's early in the season and we'll keep going, keep pushing and figure this out."

Anthony Rizzo did get two hits off Lee and even tried to bunt leading off the sixth to try and ignite the offense.

"That was on his own," Renteria said of the bunt attempt. "He's just trying to do anything he can to get something going. We were down a couple runs and he was trying to get on base."

Renteria plans on repeating the message.

"It's OK if it's a broken record -- you keep repeating it and you keep talking about it," Renteria said. "You never stop talking about it until you start to understand it and get a good feel for it. A lot of it is more games, just keep getting in more games. I know we didn't come up with a victory today, but for me, it was a ballgame we were in the whole way."

He didn't feel players were pressing.

"No one is feeling any extra pressure," Olt said. "We're just trying to figure some things out. Early in the season it happens a lot and the good teams are the ones who get over it."

Utley connected in his third at-bat on Friday, but with two outs in the first on Saturday, he drove a 1-1 pitch from Samardzija to right and into the wind. In the fourth, Utley walked, moved up on Ryan Howard's single and scored one out later on Dominic Brown's single to go ahead, 2-0. Utley also doubled with one out in the eighth, the 300th double of his career.

The Phillies may have added more runs in the fourth, but the Cubs ended the inning with a questionable double play. Philadelphia had runners at first and second when Wil Nieves hit into a 5-3 double play, but it didn't appear that Olt touched the third-base bag. The Phillies didn't challenge the call.

"I definitely thought I had it," Olt said. "It didn't look it? I must have been lucky."

Samardzija didn't alter his approach knowing the hitters have been scuffling.

"Nothing changes," he said. "You go out and try to get three outs."

The right-hander struck out five of the last six batters he faced and didn't need to blow them away with fastballs either.

"That's part of the plan -- when we're attacking early in the zone, it gets them a little more aggressive and in turn, later in the game, you can go to your secondary pitches and get swings and misses and easy ground balls," Samardzija said. "I'm pretty positive about the way [his starts] have gone.

"There are still things we can do better," he said. "If we can get Utley out or he can throw me a bone and get himself out, that'd be great, too. ... Situations like that against good teams, you need to be aware of which guys are hot and who their go-to guy is and he's definitely that for that team."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.
Read More: Chicago Cubs, Wil Nieves, Jeff Samardzija