By Rick Gano, The Associated Press
CHICAGO - Jeff Samardzija is enjoying success as a starting pitcher partly because he's figuring out the inner workings of his craft.
Sure, he's got the mid-90s fastball and at 6-foot-5 the nice downward tilt on his pitches. Mostly he's worked on throwing strikes and making sure the hitters don't see a pattern to what he's delivering.
"I'm really thinking through at-bats and remembering what they did previously. That's all part of pitching," Samardzija said Monday night after pitching seven innings to help the Chicago Cubs to a 5-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
"The more you face guys, they get to know you a little more, but you also get to know them a little more, too," he added.
"You find what works and stick with it. You got to mix it up. These guys are good. ... You get into a fastball mode, these hitters can hit 95, 96 like it's nothing. You've got to keep them off balance."
Samardzija allowed five hits and a run in his 105-pitch outing, and he got plenty of support with homers from Bryan LaHair, Ian Stewart and Geovany Soto as Chicago won for the third time in four games. Samardzija walked two and struck out seven, giving up a solo homer to Jason Heyward in the second inning.
LaHair drove Tommy Hanson's first pitch of the bottom of the fourth high over the right-field wall for his eighth homer of the season. One pitch later, Stewart connected on his third -- also to right -- to make it 2-1.
"You are going to need power from those two guys, our two big left-handed bats," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of LaHair and Stewart. "We need to score and score quickly from those two guys every once in a while. It's nice to have them back-to-back."
Atlanta threatened with one out in the seventh when Samardzija hit Heyward with a pitch and Tyler Pastornicky singled before pinch-hitter Eric Hinske lined to LaHair at first and he threw to second to double off Heyward and squash the rally.
"We had some chances there in the seventh with [Hinske] at the plate, and he hit a rocket to the first baseman and he doubled us off. They were able to add on some runs late, and that was pretty much the game," said Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was ejected in the seventh inning.
When Braves reliever Eric O'Flaherty hit David DeJesus with a two-out pitch in the bottom of the seventh, home plate umpire Chris Conroy warned both benches, prompting Gonzalez to come out of the dugout. Moments later he was ejected by Conroy.
Tony Campana then beat out a bunt and Starlin Castro hit an RBI single to make it 3-1.
"To this day, I still haven't argued. I just asked him for an explanation," Gonzalez said. "I said, 'Why would you think we're throwing at people in a one-run game or they're throwing at people in a one-run game?' It's not like it's a 10-run game or anything.
"That was just kind of odd that I get thrown out of the game for not even raising my voice."
Soto hit a two-run homer in the eighth off Chad Durbin.
Hanson (3-3) gave up five hits and two runs in six innings. The loss was just the eighth in the last 26 games for the Braves.
"I felt good. Obviously I wasn't good enough, but the back-to-back homers didn't help the cause," Hanson said. "That was all they needed."
Demoted Chicago closer Carlos Marmol came in to pitch the eighth and walked the first two batters, eliciting a chorus of boos from the Wrigley Field faithful.
Freddie Freeman, the reigning National League player of the week, lined out before a stolen base and a Marmol wild pitch put runners at third and second. Brian McCann took a third strike for the second out and Marmol turned the boos into cheers by striking out Dan Uggla swinging. Marmol then came off the mound screaming, pounding himself on the chest.
"I said I got've to throw strikes," Marmol said of his wild inning.
Heyward entered the game with a career .342 average against the Cubs and now has five homers against them. Braves center fielder Michael Bourn made two nice running catches, going over his shoulder to grab LaHair's drive in the second and racing to left center to rob Soto of extra bases in the third. He also extended his hitting streak to 11 games with an infield hit to short in the third.