NEW YORK -- The first half of Jeff Samardzija's first full season as a big league starter ended on a positive note, even if it was a loss.
Ike Davis hit a two-run home run and Jordany Valdespin added a solo shot off Samardzija to help the Mets even the three-game series with a 3-1 victory Saturday over the Cubs.
"He did great," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. "His last two outings before the break, he pitched really, really good. The confidence level is definitely [good], and he's going into the second half in a good frame of mind."
Samardzija (6-8) scattered seven hits over seven innings, striking out four. He had a tough June, going 0-4 with a 10.41 ERA, then posted his best outing of the season Monday against the Braves, striking out 11 over seven innings. Add in Saturday's outing, and it should give him peace of mind over the All-Star break.
"To bounce back from that [June] is really key for me," Samardzija said. "First season starting, you're going to go through the ups and downs, and it's all about how you respond. I've felt great these last couple starts, which mentally is huge after you struggle a little bit, and that's how it goes. You get 32 starts each season and you have to learn from each one."
Sveum had cautioned before the game that Samardzija had to keep the ball down against the Mets, whose lineup was stacked with left-handed hitters. Valdespin connected on a 1-1 pitch with one out in the second to give the Mets the lead. Ruben Tejada singled to lead off the third, and two outs later, Davis hit his 12th home run and second off Samardzija this year on a splitter. Davis also hit a three-run blast on June 27 at Wrigley Field in the Mets' 17-1 win, which came against Samardzija. He lasted 4 1/3 innings in that game, giving up nine runs.
"That first game in Chicago was just one of those games when I didn't have my good stuff and wasn't pitching very confident, but you learn from those things," Samardzija said. "You learn what didn't go well and try to make the adjustment today, and I thought I did. I really don't think I pitched bad early -- just those two homers."
It's the second straight start in which Samardzija went seven innings, and he's now at 101 1/3 innings, his highest total in the big leagues. He has thrown more in 2010 and '07 in the Minors, but these are the Major Leagues.
"I think I'm just starting to hit my stride," Samardzija said. "My arm feels great, my body feels great. I'm looking forward to hitting the second half strong. ... It's going to be a big thing for me to prove to these guys that in the second half I stay strong."
Dillon Gee (6-7) struck out four over eight innings and held the Cubs to seven hits, including an RBI single by David DeJesus in the sixth.
"A lot of times for me, it's trying to find that rhythm," Gee said. "The first three innings for me are huge. If I can put up zeros in those innings, then I can find it."
Bobby Parnell picked up the save, although the game ended on a questionable called-third strike against catcher Steve Clevenger.
"You take two pitches that are closer, and then get rung up on that -- it's kind of disappointing," Clevenger said.
Sveum cut himself off rather than comment on the call.
"It was a great at-bat by Clevenger -- I'll stop myself," Sveum said. "It's a shame, a guy has an at-bat like that and it ends like that."
Back to Samardzija. The Cubs knew there would be growing pains as he makes the conversion, but he's shown he can make adjustments in-game and keep his composure when things don't go the way he'd like. The Cubs have seen a change in Samardzija after 80 pitches, but lately, he's shown he can handle the extra workload.
"I have the confidence in him -- we were talking about the 80-pitch mark, and he's been able to overcome that in the last couple outings," Sveum said. "He's kept the fastball down and did a nice job after the 80-pitch mark, too."
The Cubs lost for the fourth time in the last 12 games. When the Cubs woke up Saturday, they were no longer in last place in the National League Central, having been replaced by the Astros. Houston beat the Brewers on Saturday to move ahead of the Cubs, who have one more game Sunday to finish on a positive note.
"It sounds kind of minimal," Sveum said, "but it's a nice thing [to not be last] after having obviously a tough two months. To finish the last month on a pretty good note and not be in the cellar, it'd be a nice way to finish the first half off."
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.