4/8 Cubs 4, Nationals 3

Jeff Samardzija has made it clear since he was drafted by the Cubs how much he wanted to be known as a big league starting pitcher and not a former All-America wide receiver. On Sunday, he looked like one. Samardzija struck out a career-best eight and gave up four hits over 8 2/3 innings as the Cubs edged the Nationals, 4-3, to give manager Dale Sveum his first win. This was Samardzija’s sixth career start and first since September 2010 after spending last season in the bullpen. He won a spot in the rotation this spring and on Sunday, was effective, throwing first-pitch strikes to all but five of the 31 batters he faced. It was his longest career outing, topping a six-inning start Sept. 19, 2010, against the Marlins.

“I really feel I had a chip on my shoulder,” Samardzija said. “I’ve talked a big game about wanting to start and made it public. I don’t want to look like an idiot. I wanted to come out and do what I needed to do and be in the zone and let the guys behind me work.”

Samardzija had cruised after a leadoff double by Ian Desmond to start the game. He retired 15 in a row after that hit before Wilson Ramos singled to lead off the sixth. The right-hander had 90 pitches entering the ninth and retired the first two batters. Samardzija then induced a grounder to short by Ryan Zimmerman, but Starlin Castro’s errant throw extended the inning. Adam LaRoche followed with a two-run homer to knock Samardzija from the game. Carlos Marmol, who already has a loss and a blown save in the first two games, took over and walked Jayson Werth before getting Xavier Nady to pop out in foul territory to seal the win.

“LaRoche is a great fastball hitter and I went a little ‘Garza’ on everybody and tried to blow his doors off and he took it about 400 feet to right,” Samardzija said, referring to teammate Matt Garza, who does have a tendency to try to throw everything hard. “That’s the way it goes. I’d been throwing him soft all game and I let my ego get in the way there a little bit.”

Sveum had come out to check on Samardzija after Zimmerman reached.

“He’s a big guy, a big horse, and hopefully, he bounces back from that,” Sveum said. “That’s not something I really wanted to do but he was throwing so well, it was tough to take him out.”

Extra bases:

* Sveum, named the Cubs’ 52nd manager last November, could finally celebrate a “W.” The last time Chicago began the year 0-3 was in 1997, when the team opened 0-14.

“It means a lot, especially to do it at home,” Sveum said. “I think the way it came about after tough two losses, to win one like that was fun. They’re all going to be nerve wrecking. Everybody congratulated me. It’s just another win, even though it was our first.”

* Blake DeWitt is day to day after he was scratched from the lineup with back spasms.

* Bryan LaHair was 2-for-4 with two doubles in his first start.

* The Cubs have gotten quality starts from their starters in each of the first three games. That last time that happened to open a season was 2001, coincidentally a home series against the Expos (now the Nationals) when Jon Lieber, Kerry Wood and Kevin Tapani did so.

* Samardzija got a shaving cream pie in the face post-game on Sunday after going 8 2/3 innings. Don’t think the right-hander didn’t notice the culprit.

“Garza must have done it a couple times,” Samardzija said. “He got it in my nose and my mouth and my eyes. Don’t worry. He’s going to pitch good one game. I’m not worried about that.”

* Starlin Castro singled in the fourth to extend his hitting streak to 14 games, extending to Sept. 17 last season. He also has reached safely in 43 consecutive games, dating to Aug. 15. The Cubs’ record is 44, set by Riggs Stephenson in 1928.

* Chris Volstad will open the Cubs’ four-game series against the Brewers on Monday night. It’s a 6:05 p.m. CT start. Milwaukee will counter with Shaun Marcum.

– Carrie Muskat

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