PITTSBURGH -- If Ryan Dempster is dealt, the Cubs will be counting on Jeff Samardzija, and on Monday night, the latter looked like an ace.
Samardzija gave up one hit over eight innings in the Cubs' 2-0 victory over the Pirates, snapping Pittsburgh's winning streak at five games.
"That was, no doubt, the best stuff he's had," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Samardzija, who's in his first full season as a starter. "He had his two-seamer working, kept the ball down, elevated when he wanted, had his split working, his slider, could get back in the count with his slider. I don't think I'm on his Christmas list right now."
That's because Sveum pulled Samardzija after the right-hander had thrown 99 pitches, depriving him of a chance at a complete game.
"Obviously, I would've sent him back out there [for the ninth] if he had covered first base," Sveum said.
The Pirates' only hit off Samardzija came with one out in the fourth, when Andrew McCutchen hit a weak grounder toward second. First baseman Anthony Rizzo fielded the ball, and Samardzija was late getting off the mound to cover at first. McCutchen beat the pitcher to the bag.
"McCutchen is kind of quick, so you can't hesitate there," Samardzija said. "I'm sure we'll have [pitchers fielding practice] pretty early now because of me."
Samardzija learned from his misstep.
"How [McCutchen] hit it threw me off there for a second," Samardzija said. "He nobbed it, and I froze. I've talked to Rizzo before -- I want him to be aggressive. That's on me there -- he made an aggressive play, and I need to be on first there."
So, is Sveum off Samardzija's holiday list?
"He's still on my Christmas list," Samardzija said. "Just not tonight. The coaches' job is to look out for the players, and the players' job is to go out and play the game. Everybody's got emotions and opinions on things."
Alfonso Soriano provided the offense, hitting an RBI double in the fourth and another in the ninth to back Samardzija (7-8), who won for just the second time in his last nine starts. He struck out five and walked one, throwing 71 of his 99 pitches for strikes.
"He was just getting us out," McCutchen said of Samardzija. "That's it. That's the biggest thing. He was just getting us out. That's it. He beat us today, so, shake it off. ... It happens to the best of us."
It's no surprise Samardzija's best game came in Pittsburgh. It's where he scored his first collegiate touchdown with Notre Dame.
"Football seems like a long time ago," said Samardzija, an All-America wide receiver. "I don't remember it too much."
That's good for the Cubs. Carlos Marmol entered in the ninth inning to record his 12th save in 14 opportunities. The win was the Cubs' 15th in their last 23 games, and their first against the Pirates in four games this season.
Trade rumors swirled around the Cubs clubhouse before the game. Dempster appeared to be headed to the Braves, Matt Garza was being considered by the Dodgers and Paul Maholm was being scouted by teams, including the Pirates, his former club. Dempster spent much of the game next to Sveum in the dugout. Expect at least one Cubs player to be dealt by next Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"There's a possibility of everything," Sveum said. "It's that time of year. Something could come up at the 11th hour. It's that time of year; when you have the commodities that people want, anything can happen at any given time. The odds of all three of them being gone, no. That's very impossible odds."
What were they talking about? Sveum claims the discussion was focused on the team's NHL sweater trip, scheduled for Aug. 2. Does that mean Dempster will still be with the Cubs then?
"He's here. That's it," Sveum said. "[The media has] to give that a rest."
Sorry, but that won't happen until Aug. 1. The Cubs are counting on the 27-year-old Samardzija, who needed 97 pitches to get through five innings in his last start, against the Marlins.
"When he has his split, and he's keeping the ball down and using his two-seamer as well, he's been really good," Sveum said. "He's a horse. Obviously, things will change after this year as far as all the innings and worrying about it. I know he doesn't get too happy about it, but he knows the issues going in. He's proven to everybody what he is, and that's a starting pitcher. To have an outing like that against the hottest team in all of baseball, swinging the bats, is pretty impressive."
The Cubs entered the game having not scored in their last 25 innings, and they were hitless and scoreless through the first three against lefty Erik Bedard (5-11). Starlin Castro walked to open the fourth and scored one out later on Soriano's double into right-center to end the streak. Castro also scored on Soriano's second double of the game, his 20th of the year.
Soriano almost got the day off. Sveum was considering a break for the veteran.
"I'm feeling good," Soriano said. "We had a bad weekend in St. Louis, but we came back today and had a better game. Samardzija pitched an incredible game, and we got the first one [in the series]. I hope tomorrow we play like we did tonight and we can win the series tomorrow."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.