WASHINGTON -- Pitching in the shadow of Stephen Strasburg's shutdown, Jeff Samardzija made a strong case to keep his own season going on Monday.
The Cubs' offense, however, did him no favors in a 2-1 Labor Day loss to the Nationals at Nationals Park.
Samardzija allowed seven hits over seven innings, but surrendered only one run, on an Adam LaRoche homer to right field in the second inning. The Cubs' right-hander added eight strikeouts with only one walk over 108 pitches, losing his second straight start and third of his last four. Samardzija did, however, lower his ERA from 4.03 to 3.91.
"He was as good as he could be," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "One pitch to lead off the second inning, other than that, he was pretty good. The velocity was good the whole day, his split was good, getting back into counts with his slider. Threw one heck of a game."
One day after the Nats announced Strasburg's last start will come on Sept. 12, the Cubs came to town for a four-game series without an official plan for Samardzija. After throwing seven innings of one-run, seven-hit ball on Monday, Samardzija sits at 165 2/3 innings on the season.
Despite having never thrown more than 88 innings -- last season's total -- in a single Major League season, Samardzija has made a convincing argument for his future atop the Cubs' rotation in his first full year as a starter.
"A big thing for me was just to prove to [the Cubs] that I could pitch strong late in the season, and that I wouldn't need a break," Samardzija said. "It's big for me to finish strong in the season. That way, you can hang your hat on a full year going into the next year and not saying, 'Oh, well we didn't do this, or we didn't do that.'
"So obviously, I don't know what their plan is or what they're thinking, but as long as they tell me I'm pitching every fifth day, I'm going to do it and be strong enough to do it, for sure."
Offensively, the Cubs were stifled by Nats left-hander Ross Detwiler. In his seven innings on the mound, Detwiler allowed just four hits with three strikeouts and three walks.
To combat the lefty, Sveum filled his lineup with right-handers except for Anthony Rizzo, who finished 0-for-3 vs. Detwiler.
"I was able to get ahead in the count," Detwiler said. "I threw offspeed early, and I had a good feeling for it late. The curveball was up a little early in the game; I kind of got lucky and got away with it."
Starlin Castro knocked two of the Cubs' hits, including a one-out double in the second. But after Welington Castillo struck out and Josh Vitters walked, Dave Sappelt stranded him there on a groundout to second base. Castro's second hit came in the fourth, a single that he reached second base on following a throwing error by Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.
Alfonso Soriano added a one-out single in the sixth, while Castillo led off the seventh with a walk. But after Vitters popped out to LaRoche, Detwiler returned to his curveball to get Sappelt to ground into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
After making his Cubs debut on Sunday, Sappelt started for the first time on Monday. Playing right field and batting eighth, Sappelt finished 0-for-2 with a walk.
The Nats added a key insurance run in the bottom of the eighth off Jeff Beliveau when Bryce Harper ripped a leadoff single and Zimmerman scored him in the following at-bat with a double to left field. Beliveau, a 25-year-old rookie, was making his second appearance in as many days.
The Cubs threatened in the ninth, scoring a run on Castillo's RBI single off Tyler Clippard with two outs, and had the tying run on second before Vitters struck out to end the game.
Vitters, a 23-year-old rookie, is just 5-for-62 (.081) in 20 games with the Cubs this year. Nevertheless, Sveum said he left Vitters in the game not to provide him with some late-inning experience, but because he liked the matchup against Clippard.
"Clippard is really, really tough against left-handers, and doesn't give up anything to them," Sveum said. "Watching his video, he gives up way more mistakes to right-handed hitters. I was expecting two good fastballs, and [Vitters] got two good fastballs to hit, and missed them both."
Mike Fiammetta is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.