Much had been made about the June "swoon" suffered by Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija.
If there was such a thing, Samardzija turned things in an upward direction Monday night in a stunning 6-1 bullpen loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.
Although the command might have been off a touch, Samardzija worked 6 innings of 4-hit ball, giving up only a first-inning run as he lowered his ERA from 2.60 to 2.53.
But the Cubs had other and bigger problems. Hector Rondon gave up 5 runs, all after getting the first two batters in the ninth. Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco put the capper on things with a grand slam. Mesoraco has homered in four straight games.
"Not the way you kind of draw it up," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria, whose clubs fell to 31-43 with its third straight loss. "We tried to let (Rondon) work his way through it. Obviously, it didn't work out."
June hadn't been the kindest month for Samardzija. He entered Monday with a 5.73 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP during the month.
But there were a couple of mitigating factors. Skewing the numbers a bit was a 3-inning, 8-run performance at Milwaukee. Those 8 earned runs equaled the combined total of earned runs over his previous 6 starts to that point.
A little bad luck also may have played a part. For those who like the advanced stats, Samardzija had a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .422 in June, compared with .225 in May. In other words, the balls that were caught in May ended up finding holes in June.
"I'm just looking at it as a whole season," Samardzija said after Monday's game. "I know how I felt last year and how much I had to battle. Kind of throughout the whole year, I felt like I was fighting myself and just hanging in there, whereas this year I really feel like every start's been the same. Consistent."
Samardzija did run up the pitch count Monday, to 107 over his 6 innings. That included a 23-pitch first inning, when gave up a hustle double to Billy Hamilton leading off and a triple to the next batter, Todd Frazier. Mesoraco got hit twice by pitches, and Samardzija walked a pair.
The Cubs did little with Reds starter Alfredo Simon until Anthony Rizzo hit a one-out homer in the sixth to tie the game at 1-1. It was Rizzo's 16th homer, an opposite-field drive to left-center.
As for Samardzija, it's anybody's guess what happens between now and the July 31 trading deadline.
"I love to pitch in big games," he said. "I love to pitch in games where I can't sleep the night before. Those days where you're up until 3 or 4 in the morning and you got a day game the next day and you know it's a big game, those are fun. I've learned the last couple of years that every start is important.
"I remember Dale (ex-manager Sveum) getting on me because he came out and (said), 'Sometimes in the big games he shows up, and other times he's not there.' It really got under my skin. Since then I've always tried to not be that guy."