Early in spring training, Jeff Samardzija said his goal was to earn a spot in the Chicago Cubs' rotation.
That task accomplished, the right-hander will try to prove deserving of his spot and help the Cubs avoid their worst start in 15 years during Sunday's series finale against the Washington Nationals.
Samardzija was a key member of the Cubs' bullpen in 2011 when he made a career-high 75 appearances and posted his lowest ERA in three seasons at 2.97. However, that left him far from satisfied.
"I hold a lot of stuff inside. I don't say too much stuff. I have a big chip on my shoulder," Samardzija told the team's website March 7.
He earned the No. 3 slot in the rotation by allowing two or fewer runs in four of his five spring outings and producing a 16 to 1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over 20 innings.
Samardzija, though, hasn't excelled in the past as a starter, going 2-3 with a 7.77 ERA in five outings - the most recent one Sept. 26, 2010.
"It's definitely important to get off on the right foot," he said. "I preached all spring (about) getting off to a quick start as a team, so I can't say it's not the same for myself. It's important to do what you need to do to set the tone for the rest of the season."
He'll try to do just that while helping the Cubs (0-2) avert a sweep. Chicago relievers Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol blew another lead Saturday, combining to give up five eighth-inning runs in a 7-4 loss.
Adam LaRoche, who scored the go-ahead run on Chad Tracy's single, hit a two-run homer earlier in the game and matched a career high with four hits.
"We don't want to be in that position every single game,'' said second baseman Danny Espinosa, who homered in the eighth. "We want to fight, try to jump out early and hopefully get the lead. It's nice to know that we have the ability to come back, we don't die, we continue to fight."
Wood walked in the tying run and Marmol allowed Ian Desmond's go-ahead single during a 2-1 defeat in Thursday's season opener. The Cubs haven't started 0-3 since a franchise-worst 14 consecutive losses to open the 1997 campaign.
"It's been two games," Marmol said. "You can't be frustrated."
Jordan Zimmermann will try to help the Nationals (2-0) match their 3-0 start from 2008 and record their first series sweep at Wrigley Field in nearly seven years by ending his recent struggles against Chicago. Washington registered its previous sweep of any series versus the Cubs from July 21-23, 2006.
Zimmermann is 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA in three career matchups, giving up four or more runs in each. He yielded a pair of home runs in the seventh inning during a 4-3 loss at Wrigley Field on Aug. 11.
The right-hander is set for his second full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow. He was 8-11 with a 3.18 ERA in a career-high 26 starts in 2011.