With the Chicago Cubs struggling to score in the first week of the season, Jeff Samardzija was handed a pair of hard-luck losses.
The offense has heated up since his last start, but the Cubs are opening a three-game series in a stadium where they had trouble pushing runs across the plate last season.
Chicago sends Samardzija to the mound Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Opponents totaled three runs in Samardzija's first two outings, but the Cubs (3-6) were shut out each time. The right-hander allowed two of those runs while pitching seven innings in both starts.
Samardzija (0-1, 1.29 ERA) has struck out 11 and allowed 11 hits.
"I see these guys working every day, I know what they're doing," Samardzija said of his teammates. "If it were a different situation, if I thought these guys were being lazy or this or that, obviously it'd be different. But these guys come to work every day, doing everything we can. It's early in the season, we're going to keep going, keep pushing and figure this out."
Chicago has done a much better job at the plate since Samardzija's 2-0 home loss to Philadelphia on Saturday. The Cubs matched their run total from the first five games in an 8-6 win over the Phillies on Sunday.
A 7-6 loss to Pittsburgh followed on Tuesday before the Cubs had another strong showing offensively in a 7-5 victory over the Pirates the next night. Chicago jumped out to a four-run lead Thursday, but it didn't stand up in a 5-4 loss. The Cubs have hit .333 with runners in scoring position over the last four games after opening 4 for 40.
Now they head to Busch Stadium, where they scored 23 runs in losing seven of 10 in 2013. Samardzija went 1-1 with a 3.14 ERA in two starts there last season as he was given four total runs of support.
His last outing in St. Louis came Sept. 29 as Joe Kelly won in relief for the Cardinals (5-4). Kelly will get the start Friday following a victorious performance in his first outing.
The right-hander allowed one run over 5 1-3 innings of a 6-1 win at Pittsburgh on Saturday, but he wasn't happy after walking four - tied for the second most in his 32 career starts.
"I made some good pitches when I had to but I struggled a little with my command from time to time," Kelly said.
He's 2-1 with a 3.13 ERA in four starts against the Cubs. Kelly has held Anthony Rizzo to one hit in their 13 matchups and Starlin Castro is 3 for 12 with six strikeouts.
Both players, though, are hot. Over the last five games, Rizzo is 11 for 18 while Castro is 11 for 21 with two homers and six RBIs.
Kelly will look to help the Cardinals avoid consecutive losses for the first time after they failed to sweep a three-game series from visiting Cincinnati with a 4-0 loss Wednesday.
It was the fifth time St. Louis scored two or fewer runs.
"There's a couple of games where if we had a couple of things go our way, we could be even better," manager Mike Matheny said. "But I do believe that there's obviously more in our tank offensively."
Samardzija has had trouble with Yadier Molina (9 for 17) and Jon Jay (8 for 18). Molina is 4 for 8 with a homer and a double over the last two games, but Jay is off to a 2-for-11 start.
St. Louis won the last five overall meetings with Chicago last season.
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