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CHC@CIN: Samardzija strikes out eight over six frames

Tony Cingrani has made things look pretty easy over his first three Major League starts, but on Saturday afternoon, the Reds left-hander will face a new test.

With Cincinnati playing the second of a three-game set at Wrigley Field, the Cubs are getting their second look at Cingrani. The 23-year-old has never started more than once against a team at the big league level.

It will be up to the Cubs to make some adjustments to Cingrani, who threw seven stellar innings against them on April 23 in Cincinnati -- and it will be up to Cingrani to respond.

Certainly, nothing has fazed him since the Reds called him up from Triple-A Louisville to replace the injured Johnny Cueto. Cingrani is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 28 strikeouts and four walks in 18 innings.

The Reds' third-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft struck out nine and didn't walk a batter against the Cubs. He racked up 11 K's with one walk and two hits allowed over six scoreless innings against the Nationals on Sunday. Cingrani tied a Major League record with four strikeouts in the fourth inning, the final two coming with the bases loaded.

"He's a guy who can attack the zone from the get-go," catcher Corky Miller said. "He got into that jam and he got out of it. That's what I've seen so far this year, is that if he gets in that jam, he's not giving in. He gets fired up. If he can pound the zone more often, he can get into the seventh, eighth and ninth."

Another strong start by Cingrani could give the Reds a 2-0 lead in the series and a chance to finish their 10-game road trip at .500 with a victory on Sunday.

The Cubs will try to improve to 3-3 on their 10-game homestand behind Jeff Samardzija (1-4, 3.35), who is looking for his first victory since Opening Day. The right-hander has been racking up the strikeouts -- 47 in 37 2/3 innings -- but also has issued 14 walks, including seven over his last two starts.

Still, the former Notre Dame wide receiver has been validating his choice to go with professional baseball. Samardzija put things together while pitching out of the bullpen in 2011, and since moving to a starting role last year, he has a solid 3.73 ERA.

"Once he came out of college playing football and signed, I think it was his goal all along to be a starter in the big leagues and that's why he wanted to do it so bad last year," manager Dale Sveum said. "The opportunity was there. He matured as a Major League pitcher and started figuring out how to get Major League hitters out. The organization gave him the opportunity to do it. I'm sure now he can sit back and relax and know this is why he chose baseball over football because he wanted to be a Major League starter, and he's doing a good job at it."

Reds: Phillips to return after rest
• Second baseman Brandon Phillips will be back in the lineup on Saturday. He didn't play on Friday, following the team's scheduled off-day, as manager Dusty Baker likes to do with his veterans.

Phillips leads the Reds with 26 RBIs, while hitting .289 with five home runs and an .818 OPS. He is riding a five-game hitting streak, during which he is 9-for-20 with a homer and five RBIs.

• Closer Aroldis Chapman had allowed one run on five hits in 13 1/3 innings all season before Friday, when he couldn't get out of the ninth inning despite entering with a 6-2 lead. The lefty surrendered three runs on four hits and two walks and gave way to J.J. Hoover, who recorded the final out with the bases loaded.

Cubs: Rizzo heating up
• First baseman Anthony Rizzo went 3-for-5 with a double on Friday, making him 13-for-30 (.433) over his past eight games, with five doubles and two homers. During that span, Rizzo's OPS has risen to .846 from .675.

• With Nate Schierholtz's steal on Friday, the Cubs have swiped at least one base in five consecutive games for the first time since June 7-11, 2010. Chicago's 23 steals this season are the second-most in the National League behind the Brewers. Schierholtz has four.

Worth noting
• Samardzija held the Reds to one run on seven hits over six innings on April 24, striking out eight and walking three. He also suffered a cut on his right index finger that has prevented him from doing his usual throwing routine between starts.

• The Cubs are hitting .225 with a .653 OPS in eight games against left-handed starters.

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