How Samardzija keeps his remarkable stretch going: 'It's simple'

How Samardzija keeps his remarkable stretch going: 'It's simple'

MILWAUKEE — Players are superstitious types, and in recent weeks, Jeff Samardzija has often flashed a sort of “Why are you doing this to me?” smile when asked about his increase in command and the lack of walks in his box scores. 

Samardzija is not afraid to talk, however, about the changes he has made, and it’s clear that they are working. With 10 more strikeouts and zero walks in a 7-2 win over the Brewers, Samardzija moved to an astounding 59 strikeouts to just one walk over his past seven starts, a stretch that goes back to the start of May. 

It’s simple, Samardzija said. He’s staying back on the rubber during his delivery and letting his elite stuff take over. 

“I’m an excitable guy and I like to throw hard, but it takes time to learn you’ve got to get your body in the right position to be able to throw with action where you want it,” Samardzija said. “I haven’t been drifting down off the rubber until it’s time … it’s just let everything happen on the rubber and after that just execute the pitch.”

Samardzija said the new direction came from work done in bullpen sessions with pitching coach Dave Righetti. 

“We came to the conclusion that I need to be in a little more control over the rubber,” he said. 

Nobody around the game is controlling the ball like Samardzija right now. Of all the pitchers with one walk since May 1, Samardzija is the only one with more than 27 strikeouts. He is in the same mix as guys like Andrew Miller (24 strikeouts, one walk) and Kenley Jansen (23). The difference is Samardzija has to keep his delivery going deep into a game, not just for one inning. 

“He’s just repeating his delivery,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “If you repeat your delivery, you’re probably going to have consistent command.”

Coming off two awful games in Philadelphia, Bochy rode Samardzija for 119 pitches Monday. That got him through 23 outs, and by that time Samardzija had a lead. Early on it looked like he might be in for yet another tough-luck loss, when Orlando Calixte’s throwing error gifted the Brewers a run and put Samardzija in a 2-0 hole. But then he retired 19 straight. Asked if he had a talk with himself after the early issues, Samardzija smiled. 

“I have a lot of talks with myself on a lot of different topics and subjects,” he said. “I liked the way I warmed up. We kept pitching. There’s no reason to panic. It was early in the game.”

Samardzija kept the Brewers off the bases and the lineup chipped away. An Eduardo Nuñez homer resulted in one run and a Brewers error helped with another. Aaron Hill got to his former team in the top of the eighth with a two-run double with the bases loaded. The Giants tacked on three more in the ninth as the Brewers started to fall apart defensively and on the mound. 

That all resulted in a rarity for Samardzija. This stretch has not shown up in the win column, as Samardzija entered the night with just one victory. That didn’t really bother him. He’s not a stats guy, and he has said repeatedly that he’s just worried about how he feels on the mound. 

“All year, man, I haven’t really been too upset all year because I know how it’s coming out and the results,” he said. 

Still, it’s nice to get rewarded. 

“He had it all going on in a place where he hasn’t had a lot of success,” Bochy said. “Good for him. He got the win. He should have a few more.”

Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle


Jeff Samardzija to miss start of season after MRI reveals strained pectoral muscle

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants nearly left Scottsdale unscathed. Instead they'll leave with an injured No. 3 starter, but the news on Jeff Samardzija late Thursday night was good news. 

Manager Bruce Bochy told reporters that Samardzija has a strained pectoral muscle that will sideline him for the start of the season. But given that Samardzija, who has had a rough spring, went for an MRI on his shoulder a week before the season opener, team officials have to be breathing a sigh of relief. 

"He'll go a week without throwing the ball and then crank it back up," Bochy told reporters, including Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News. "It should't take long to get him back on the mound so it's good news."

Samardzija was supposed to take the ball next Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Instead, the Giants will rely on two young pitchers and a non-roster invitee at the back end of their rotation. The injury ends a three-way race for the final two spots between Chris Stratton, Ty Blach and Derek Holland. The Giants could use all three in the rotation until Samardzija is healthy, or they could skip their No. 5 starter and move one of the pitchers into the bullpen. 

Because the Giants have two off days before their seventh game, Madison Bumgarner can line up to pitch three of the first nine games. The Giants have been considering that all spring, although they have yet to publicly announce a decision one way or the other. Bumgarner said early in camp that he would be up to the challenge, and given how sharp he was all spring, that might be the best way to tread water until Samardzija is cleared to return to the rotation.

No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers


No. 79? No. 53? Before they were stars, Giants wore random numbers

SCOTTSDALE — A couple of veterans walked past a clubhouse TV earlier in camp and saw that the Giants and Padres were tied heading into the bottom of the 10th of an exhibition game. The Padres infielders were just standing around, and there was not yet a new pitcher on the mound. 

“It’s that time when No. 99 comes in to pitch,” one of the players joked as he headed home for the day.

A few seconds later, a big left-hander took the mound. He was, in fact, wearing No. 99, and in his inning on the mound he would face a No. 74 (Aramis Garcia) and No. 78 (Steven Duggar). This is the norm for spring training, when dozens of players — including teenagers and journeymen still hanging around the low minors — get into every game. That leads to action between numbers you would never see in a normal game. The Giants had 60 players in camp, plus 10 coaches and staff members with numbers. Throw in their 10 retired numbers and the unofficially retired ones (25, 55, etc.) and, well, there aren’t a whole lot of choices left. 

If Duggar makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll get an upgrade from his lineman’s number. Ditto for Garcia, who could be Buster Posey’s backup as soon as next season. Still, a taste of big league action doesn’t guarantee a normal number in camp, when young players regularly find themselves back at the end of the line. 

Ryder Jones wore 83 in camp last year and 63 in the big leagues. When he showed up this year, with 150 big league at-bats under his belt, he was told that he would have to wait until the end of the spring to upgrade. Players with more service time (think No. 2 Chase d’Arnaud or No. 19 Josh Rutledge) get priority, at least until all the cuts are made. Jones said he has a few numbers in mind for his next stint in the big leagues, but he won’t be picky. 

“Anything under 40 works,” he said, smiling. 

The steady climb toward single digits happens to just about everybody. Long before Brandon Crawford’s became @bcraw35, he wore 79 in his first camp. He moved up to 53 after that and Mike Murphy flipped that to 35 when Crawford became the big league shortstop. Hunter Pence doesn’t remember his first spring training number with the Astros, but he knows it was in the low eighties. Joe Panik wore 66 the first time he spent a spring at Scottsdale Stadium. “I was an offensive lineman,” he joked. Tyler Beede, now on the cusp of his big league debut, got promoted from 63 to 32 when he arrived last spring, only to swap to 38 this year because of some in-season shifting. When Pablo Sandoval arrived last summer, Steven Okert switched from 48 to 32.

Then there are those who have only known one jersey. Posey was a can’t-miss prospect when he arrived and doesn’t remember wearing anything other than 28. Brandon Belt was a top-25 prospect when he came to camp for the first time, and he’s been 9 since that day. Madison Bumgarner wore 40 in his first big league camp because he had already made his big league debut, but somewhere in the team archives, there are probably a few photos of a 19-year-old Bumgarner wearing something else. 

“The previous spring I came up to pitch a few times,” Bumgarner said. “I’m pretty sure I had a different number every time I came over and I’m pretty sure it was always in the eighties.”

There were seven Giants in the eighties this spring. Duggar was one of two top prospects — Chris Shaw inherited Crawford’s old 79 — to come close, and he didn’t mind one bit. He’s not thinking too far ahead, even though he could be a big leaguer in eight days. 

“I’ll take anything if I’m in the big leagues,” he said. “I’ll take No. 112 if that’s what they give me.”