Erik Bedard has been the weak link in the Pittsburgh Pirates' starting rotation for much of the season. That appears to be changing.
Bedard pitched very well Monday night but wound up being the tough-luck loser as Jeff Samardzija gave up one hit over eight innings and Alfonso Soriano hit two run-scoring doubles to help the Chicago Cubs cool off the Pirates 2-0.
The loss ended the Pirates' five-game winning streak.
Bedard (5-11) allowed one earned run and two hits in seven innings while walking two and striking out 11.
"Boy, he got into a rhythm sometime between the second and third inning," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "It was fun to watch him go to work, too, with the fastball-curveball-changeup combination. But the breaking ball became very effective, so a very well-pitched game by both starters, very well-pitched."
Bedard lost his last four decisions before the All-Star break. However, he is 1-1 to stars the second half, giving up just two earned runs in 13 2-3 innings.
"He ought to be feeling good about himself," Hurdle said.
Bedard doesn't show much emotion and said it was hard to feel good because Pittsburgh didn't win.
"We got a loss, so I don't know," Bedard said when asked what he could take from Monday's outing. "That's all."
The only hit Samardiza allowed was a fourth-inning infield single by Andrew McCutchen, the major leagues' leading hitter with a .373 average. The ball ricocheted off Samardzija.
"McCutchen is really fast and your first reaction is to stop after taking a couple of steps toward the bag if you feel you have no chance," Samardzija said in explaining why he was late covering first base as McCutchen easily beat first baseman Anthony Rizzo's throw. "I would have hated if it had cost us a no-hitter, though. We'll probably have (pitchers' fielding practice) every day for a month after that."
Samardzija (7-8) struck out five and walked one. He was pulled after throwing 99 pitches as Cubs manager Dale Sveum decided to not to give the 27-year-old a shot at his first career complete game.
"I know he's not on my Christmas list but I wasn't letting him go back out there after sitting for 27 minutes," Sveum said. "I couldn't let that happen. I know I'm not on his Christmas list because of it but he's in his first (major league) season as a starter and we're not going to overextend him."
Samardzija smiled when asked if he might still buy Sveum a present in December.
"He's off my list for tonight but that's all," Samardzija said. "(Sveum) has been great all year. He has all our backs and I know he's looking out for my best interests."
Soriano provided two big one-out hits, scoring Starlin Castro both times, as Chicago ended its 28-inning scoreless streak that stretched to the second inning of last Friday's game at St. Louis. The Cardinal completed the sweep with two shutouts.
"It was a bad weekend for all of us, so it was nice to get going in the right direction again," Soriano said.
McCutchen, who walked in the first inning, was the only Pirate to reach base until Josh Harrison led off the ninth inning with an infield single off closer Carlos Marmol, who retired the next three hitters for his 12th save.
"Sometimes you just get shut down," McCutchen said. "It's happens to the best of teams and it happens to the worst of teams,"
Soriano's double to center in the fourth inning off Erik Bedard (5-11) came after Castro drew a leadoff walk. In the eighth, Soriano doubled to right-center off Tony Watson after Castro led off with a single.
Beside the fourth inning, the Cubs had just two baserunners against Bedard. Reed Johnson walked to lead off the game and Geovany Soto hit a two-out single in the seventh inning. Both were left stranded at first base.
The Pirates lost for just the fifth time in their last 26 home games. They entered the day a half-game behind Cincinnati in the NL Central.
NOTES: Sveum said RHP Matt Garza would "probably not" make his scheduled start Friday against St. Louis. Garza left his start last Saturday at St. Louis after three innings because of cramping in his right biceps. Sveum and Garza both believe a stint on the DL stint will be avoided. ... Chicago LHP Paul Maholm (8-6, 4.09) will face Pittsburgh RHP James McDonald (10-3, 2.93) on Tuesday night. Maholm, who spent the first seven years of his career with the Pirates, is 4-0 with a 0.89 ERA in his last five games, including four starts, while McDonald is on a career-best five-game winning streak.