WASHINGTON -- The Cubs felt Jeff Samardzija's absence immediately on Saturday at Nationals Park.
The star pitcher -- traded to the Athletics along with Jason Hammel for prospects on Saturday, with news of the deal coming on Friday -- was scheduled to start Saturday's contest against the Nationals. Instead, Carlos Villanueva, a reliever for the past two months, took the mound as a last-minute replacement.
Washington rocked Villanueva for four runs on five hits over two-plus innings before continuing its offensive explosion against left-hander Chris Rusin, who was called up from Triple-A Iowa on Saturday, right-hander Justin Grimm and left-hander Wesley Wright. In total, the Nationals tallied 19 hits against the four pitchers in a 13-0 victory.
However, Cubs manager Rick Renteria made it clear after the game that his team's sloppy performance was not related to any emotional letdown resulting from the loss of two well-respected friends and teammates.
"It had nothing to do with any of the things that happened," Renteria said. "Today, we spit out a bad ballgame."
The Nationals opened the scoring in the bottom of the second inning on an RBI single from Ian Desmond, and they broke the game open in the third with six runs. The rally started with back-to-back doubles from Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth, prompting Renteria to replace Villanueva with Rusin.
"We had an emergency," said Villanueva, who learned he was going to be Saturday's starter at 11 a.m. the day of the game. "That's what I'm here for. It's a shame I couldn't go a little longer. It's a difficult day overall, but it's part of our job title. Our job is to go out there and play our butts off regardless of what happens. There are things that happen that are out of our control."
The pitching change did little to slow down Washington's bats, though, as Ryan Zimmerman, Desmond and Wilson Ramos all added RBI hits later in the frame. Adam LaRoche also scored on a wild pitch from Rusin during Bryce Harper's at-bat to help build a 7-0 lead through three innings.
The Nationals added to their comfortable advantage in bottom of the sixth on another run-scoring double from Werth and an RBI single to right field from LaRoche. They plated four more runs in the seventh off Grimm on doubles from Rendon and Zimmerman along with a single from Kevin Frandsen.
"Ever since we have everyone back, we are kind of slowly but surely getting better,'" said Zimmerman, who led the Nationals with four hits in the game. "Obviously, this isn't going to happen every day, but with the type of at-bats we put together today, even when the game is out of hand, it's good to see everyone grinding it out, even when it doesn't matter. Everyone finished the game strong."
Meanwhile, the Nationals got a near flawless start from left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who allowed just four hits in eight scoreless innings while striking out seven in his fourth outing since returning from shoulder inflammation.
"He stifled our offense," Renteria said of Gonzalez. "He locates his fastball, works it to both sides of the plate. And his breaking ball is really good. … It's got sharp, late break, good tilt. He can use it effectively against both lefties and righties."
The Cubs will take the field on Sunday for the finale against Washington with a series victory still in reach.
Chicago will return to its usual starting staff with right-hander Jake Arrieta on the mound. He opened his outing on Monday against the Red Sox with 7 2/3 no-hit innings and should provide a stabilizing presence for the Cubs.
But most importantly, the Cubs must put the trade and loss in the past.
"Samardzija was here for a while and Hammel was a good guy here, but they're gone now," Villanueva said. "Tomorrow, other guys are going to come in, and they're going to be our brothers here. You get forgotten quick. They'll love those guys over there in Oakland now. When they leave, they'll probably be sad for a couple days. But you've got to keep working because, ultimately, we are here to do a job."