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Jeff Samardzija proves his point in Cubs’ first victory

Jeff Samardzijallowed three runs (one earned) four hits 8 2/3 innings. He struck out eight walked none.  |

Jeff Samardzija allowed three runs (one earned) and four hits in 8 2/3 innings. He struck out eight and walked none. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 10, 2012 8:14AM

Jeff Samardzija never was shy about his desire to be a starting pitcher, as if his decision to forego a promising football career wasn’t enough to prove the point.

On Sunday, he let his pitching speak for him.

‘‘I feel I’ve got a chip on my shoulder because I’ve talked a big game that I wanted to start, and I didn’t want to look like an idiot,’’ the onetime Notre Dame star receiver said.

Manager Dale Sveum said the longhaired right-hander looked ‘‘unbelievable’’ in leading the Cubs to their first victory of the season in a 4-3 decision against the Washington Nationals.

Samardzija baffled hitters and threw first-pitch strikes to all but five batters. He had allowed one run and three hits through 82/3 innings when shortstop Starlin Castro prolonged the game with an errant throw to first on Ryan Zimmerman’s ground ball.

Sveum was content to let Samardzija try again.

‘‘He didn’t have much stress through the game, and he’s a big horse,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘A lot of decisions you make with Jeff is knowing he had that background of playing in front of 100,000 people [at Notre Dame] and going over the middle with those big guys coming down on him. You flash back that this guy has been in tough situations.’’

But when Samardzija tried to power a 2-2 fastball past Adam LaRoche, it sailed out of the park, carrying his chance for a complete game with it.

‘‘I went a little [Matt] Garza on him trying to knock his doors off,’’ Samardzija said.

Samardzija was the first to greet closer Carlos Marmol after he finished the job, retiring Xavier Nady on a foul pop-up, albeit after walking Jayson Werth.

‘‘I think our bullpen is fine, no worries about it,’’ Samardzija said. ‘‘I pitched in the bullpen, too, and walked four guys in Milwaukee the start of last year. I didn’t know where the plate was.’’

There were no walks from him this time. Samardzija counted that as his prime goal.

‘‘That’s the first thing I look at,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s a great place to start for me, knowing if I put guys on base, I get into trouble.

‘‘I knew I’d be pretty excited. I worried about the first inning and keeping myself in control and going from there. You look like a genius with plays like [third baseman Ian] Stewart and [left fielder Alfonso] Soriano made, and the clutch runs.’’

Soriano robbed LaRoche in the fourth with a diving grab, and Stewart dove to his right and threw from his knee to rob Werth in the seventh.

For the third consecutive game, the Cubs got on the board first. In the fourth, Castro singled against Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann, stole second, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on Soriano’s sacrifice fly. The run was unearned.

After the Nationals tied it in the sixth, the Cubs scored in the bottom half when Soriano singled home Darwin Barney, who doubled. They added to their lead in the eighth when Castro’s double scored David DeJesus and Stewart’s single scored Castro.

Samardzija saluted rookie catcher Steve Clevenger for his pitch calling. They worked together at Class A Daytona.

‘‘We’ve probably worked a hundred games together,’’ he said. ‘‘His first game, but he didn’t show it at all.’’

Clevenger said Samardzija made it so.

‘‘We had every pitch at any time we needed it,’’ he said. ‘‘A couple times he threw a pitch I didn’t think he should, but he made them.’’

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