Updated: June 1, 2014 8:19PM
MILWAUKEE — After two months stuck on the Willis Tower ledge of baseball, you knew something eventually had to crack with the Cubs. For lame-duck ace Jeff Samardzija, it wasn’t as inevitable as what’s coming next month toward the trade deadline.
But a 9-0 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers that included Samardzija’s worst start in nearly a year and the first ejection of Anthony Rizzo’s career underscored the kind of strain another season in rebuild limbo has put on players trying to cope, compete, prove their worth, quiet critics and survive.
“Obviously, that one at-bat my emotions got to me a little bit, and I expressed them,” said Rizzo, who snapped on ump Jerry Meals after three called strikes in the fourth.
“At that situation, obviously, Jeff didn’t have his A game today, and I think at that point I was very frustrated and not agreeing with calls. I made a mistake, and you move on from it.”
Rizzo said the rare outburst was not a sign of the Cubs’ major-league-worst start that has included 10 one-run losses, nine two-run losses and a major-league-high eight shutout losses.
But as the season hits the summer months and nearly half the roster is made available in trades, the heat is only going to rise. And Samardzija is at the top of the menu.
“There’s a lot of talk going on,” said Samardzija (1-5), whose major-league-best 1.68 ERA jumped to 2.54 during his three-inning clunker in which he was up in the zone. It was the shortest of his 78 career starts.
“I’m not saying it gets to you,” he said. “It’s just part of the job. Whatever’s on the outside doesn’t matter. You have a job to do every fifth day, and you assess it like that. You don’t make excuses for it.”
If anything, that has been one of Samardzija’s great strengths this season, considering he has dealt with performing under the reality of his short-term status since the day he arrived at spring training. He continued to handle adversity through 10 winless starts to begin the season, despite the best pitching in baseball.
“He hasn’t let anything get to him, all the outside talk and what-not,” Rizzo said. “It’s been nice.”
And, of course, temporary.
The only question is whether a contender will try to jump the market with a big offer to get Samardzija a month or more before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.
Or whether the Samardzija-loving Mariners believe they’re close enough to be players for him. Or whether the Yankees throw the farm at the Cubs. Or whether the Braves, Blue Jays, Rangers or any other playoff-minded team with a deep enough system to deal drives up the market.
Even as that reality grows near, Samardzija said he’s not spending any more time thinking about it.
“I like to think I’m a pretty focused guy,” he said, “especially when it comes to the day I pitch.
“The future’s uncertain for everybody. You don’t know what’s going to happen. All I can do is go out and prove that in good times and bad times that I’m a pretty important guy to have around here. And I want that to go on for a long time.
“It sucks [against the Brewers Sunday]. But we’re going to take our medicine and move on.”
NOTES: Infielder Luis Valbuena hasn’t played the last two games because of soreness in his abdominal area, said Renteria, who suggested the shutdown was only a precaution.
◆ Catcher Welington Castillo developed back soreness and was removed in the fourth. He said he’ll be ready to play Tuesday.