ST. LOUIS — It’s pretty difficult for a guy to build a reputation as a No. 1 starting pitcher when he doesn’t, you know, win any games.
Snakebitten Jeff Samardzija will live to fight another day. As a closer, Jose Veras perhaps should not. In full-blown meltdown mode Friday, Veras allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to force extra innings, costing Samardzija the victory.
Manager Rick Renteria said afterward that the job still belongs to Veras for now.
Welington Castillo came through with a three-run home run, a 426-foot bomb to left-center in the 11th, to give the Cubs a 6-3 lead. Hector Rondon then pitched a scoreless bottom half to earn his first save as a member of the Cubs and run his scoreless streak to 16 innings.
But back to Samardzija and the question of whether he’s blossoming into a legitimate No. 1 starter. It’s too early to say yes, but why jump to a quick no?
Right now, the 29-year-old right-hander is dominating. He’s staying poised. He’s controlling what Renteria describes as his ‘‘energy and fight,’’ a big part of the battle for an emotional pitcher.
Samardzija was at it again against the Cardinals, throwing deep into another ballgame and daring the Cubs’ offense to take advantage.
After Samardzija gave them seven innings of one-run, six-hit ball, the Cubs scratched out a pair of runs in the eighth — their first earned runs of the game and the only runs they’ve scored for Samardzija all season.
The Cubs have gotten quality starts in seven of their 10 games, and Samardzija is 3-for-3 in that department. He has thrown seven innings in each of his starts and has surrendered a combined three runs. His ERA held strong at 1.29.
‘‘We need him going as long as he can,’’ Castillo said, ‘‘so every time he pitches, he gives us a chance to win.’’
In the visitors’ dugout before the game, Renteria made a ‘‘knock on wood’’ gesture when discussing how well Samardzija has been pitching. What his Opening Day starter really needs, though, is for the Cubs’ hitters to put wood to baseball, then for his bullpen to keep from coming unglued.
‘‘It’s the way it goes,’’ Samardzija said. ‘‘Just keep pitching.’’
The three runs he got were the first scored by the Cubs in a game he had started in a hard-to-believe 36 innings. Dating to last season, it was Samardzija’s sixth consecutive quality start.
After striking out Peter Bourjos to end the seventh, Samardzija skipped backward off the mound before turning toward the Cubs’ dugout.
‘‘It feels good,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s really no other way to put it.’’
Castillo believes Samardzija still is improving. Wouldn’t it be nice to see where that improvement goes? Of course, there has been speculation the Cubs eventually will deal Samardzija to a contender.
‘‘It’ll be hard if we lose him,’’ Castillo said, ‘‘because every year it looks like he gets better and better.’’
NOTE: Right-hander Jake Arrieta, who missed all of spring training with tightness in his pitching shoulder, might be ready to rejoin the Cubs soon. Manager Rick Renteria said Arrieta will make at least one more minor-league start, after which his status will be evaluated.