Updated: May 2, 2014 6:33AM
PITTSBURGH — Jeff Samardzija still can’t fully explain why he has performed especially well when the stage is bigger and the stakes higher.
‘‘I mean, it’s fun, man,” he said after pitching seven scoreless innings in the Cubs’ season opener Monday, a 1-0 loss in 10 innings. ‘‘That’s why we do what we do.’’
It’s also part of why he’ll be doing it for somebody else by August, when the trade deadline passes, why he’s attractive to other teams, why he’ll attract value in a trade and why some executives say privately — and Matt Cain says publicly — that he’d be an ideal fit in the middle of some contender’s playoff rotation.
‘‘Every game’s important, don’t get me wrong,’’ Samardzija said, ‘‘but you want to go out and approach every game the same — you try to. Sometimes if there’s [a bigger] atmosphere, it’s a little more exciting, and sometimes you’ve just got to reach down a little deeper and find it.’’
Samardzija ran his Opening Day scoreless streak to 16 consecutive innings, dating to a one-inning relief appearance in 2011 (and including last year’s eight-inning start). It’s the longest such streak for a Cub since Lon Warneke’s 21-inning streak in 1933-35, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
‘‘He’s great. In big games, Jeff’s the guy we want on the mound,’’ teammate Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘Any game, no matter what.
‘‘That’s who he is. He’s our horse. I’m sure you saw it, too, the fieriness in him. That’s what he brings to the table every time.’’
With extension talks long dead, he’ll be bringing it to somebody else’s table this summer. He knows it, and unless something changes dramatically, the Cubs are prepared.
Until then, he’s looking for more games like Monday’s, whether they’re on as big a stage or not.
His 89-pitch cruise-control performance that included only three strikeouts could be an indication of a new and improved Samardzija if it sticks. It was the plan going in.
‘‘That’s what we’re going to go for this year is attack the zone, make smart pitches and [only] go for the strikeout when we need it,’’ he said.
Next up for Samardzija is Saturday’s game against Ryne Sandberg’s Philadelphia Phillies, likely opposite Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, during the Cubs’ home-opening series.
Another big stage.
‘‘I just enjoy pitching in these games,’’ he said, ‘‘They’re fun, man. You’re getting their best, you’ve got to bring your best, and you throw it all out there and see what happens.’’