ATLANTA – Jeff Samardzija seemed to be toying with the Atlanta Braves through four innings.
Unfortunately for Samardzija and the Cubs, the command of his pitches began to wane, and his strikeout rate slowed.
“It’s a double-edged sword when you strike out guys like that,” he said. “Your pitch count gets up, you’re showing them a lot of pitches and you’re doing some different things. The pitches felt good, but I had just a couple of bad decisions there that cost me.”
Tim Hudson pitched six-plus strong innings and added an RBI and Ramiro Pena hit a two-run single to help the Braves beat the Cubs, 5-1, on Sunday.
The three-game sweep ended a 5-1 homestand for Atlanta, which got a solo homer from Dan Uggla in the eighth off Hisanori Takahashi.
The Cubs ended a six-game road trip with four losses as they heads to Wrigley Field for today’s home opener against Milwaukee
“Bottom line is we still only scored one run,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “Five out six games we’ve scored three or less runs. It’s going to be difficult to win, period. Your starters can’t be that good.”
Hudson (1-0) allowed three hits, one run and two walks in 62/3 innings. He struck out seven while improving to 3-1 in seven career starts against the Cubs with a 3.12 ERA.
Samardzija (1-1) set a career high with 13 strikeouts, but gave up four hits, four runs and four walks in 52/3 innings.
The Braves, without injured starters Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons, had struck out 10 times by the end of the fourth, but they got an offensive lift for the second straight game from Pena, a reserve shortstop batting in the No. 8 spot.
In the fifth, Samardzija retired the first two batters he faced before Pena doubled and Hudson walked. With B.J. Upton batting, a wild pitch advanced both runners. Samardzija then walked Upton on a wild pitch that scored Pena and made it 1-1.
In the sixth, Justin Upton whiffed for the 13th strikeout, but Samardzija loaded the bases with two outs on Uggla’s fielder’s choice grounder and Juan Francisco’s single before he hit Chris Johnson with a pitch.
Samardzija was unhappy with umpire Alfonso Marquez, running toward the plate to argue that the ball had missed Johnson.
Pena, the next batter, singled into right field to drive in two runs to make it 3-1 and chase Samardzija.
Hudson followed with an RBI single off reliever Michael Bowden to give the Braves a 4-1 lead.
“I was ahead in the count,” Samardzija said. “That one he hit probably should’ve been more off the plate. It probably caught too much plate and let him put a bat on it. I could’ve thrown a splitter, too. There’s a lot of things I could’ve done in that situation.”
Chicago took a 1-0 lead in the first when David DeJesus doubled off the right-field wall, moved to third on Starlin Castro’s flyout and scored on Anthony Rizzo’s RBI groundout.
Luis Avilan, who replaced Hudson with runners on first and second in the seventh, ended the threat by retiring pinch-hitter Scott Hairston on a forceout.
Avilan stranded two runners in the eighth when Nate Schierholtz grounded out.
Uggla’s homer, his second, made it 5-1. Braves reliever Jordan Walden struck out the side in the ninth.
NOTES: Sveum said before the game that RHP Carlos Marmol has been removed as closer in favor of RHP Kyuji Fujikawa. Neither pitched Sunday. ... Braves 1B Freeman was upset with the team’s decision to place him on the DL with a strained right oblique. He will stay in Atlanta for treatment and will not accompany the Braves on their six-game road trip that begins Monday at Miami and continues Friday at Washington. ... One night after hitting his fifth homer in five games, Justin Upton struck out four times. ... Samardzija’s previous strikeout high was 11, a mark he first set last July 2 at Atlanta and matched last Aug. 13 against Houston. ... Samardzija is 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA in three career starts against the Braves. ... Atlanta’s Simmons, who’s missed two games with a sprained right thumb, hopes to return to the lineup early in the week. ... Cubs RHP Matt Garza, on the disabled list with a left side strain, threw a bullpen session, but is still a few days away before he begins a rehab assignment. ... Sveum said 2B Darwin Barney is a couple of days away from a rehab assignment and could return April 15 against Texas.