MINNEAPOLIS -- While the White Sox have spent the past two weeks headed south, Jeff Samardzija’s compass has been pointed in the opposite direction.
With the trade deadline roughly five weeks away, the starting pitcher has recently improved his potential value with three good starts in a row.
Samardzija struck out seven over seven innings and Geovany Soto had a big night as the White Sox topped the Minnesota Twins 6-2 in front of 27,349 at Target Field. The White Sox won for only the third time in 12 games and for the first time all season at Target Field. Samardzija also earned his first victory since May 22.
“We’re right there,” Samardzija said of his 3.00 ERA in his last 21 innings. “We had to battle a little more with hits I’ve given up, like in Pittsburgh game and a couple tonight, but it’s making me go out and grind.
“Hopefully we can turn those into easy ground balls or pop outs and make these games go slower and pitch deeper than seven innings.”
Samardzija still hasn’t solved the first-inning curse (Eddie Rosario had a solo homer, Samardzija’s 17th earned run allowed in the opening stanza). But the tall right-hander picked it up from there.
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After he allowed three straight first-inning hits, Samardzija set down nine in a row as Torii Hunter grounded into a double play with one out. Samardzija struck out the side in the third and picked it back up after he allowed a run in the fourth, striking out three more over his final three innings.
The pivotal moment for White Sox manager Robin Ventura came in the seventh inning with Twins speedster Byron Buxton on first. With the White Sox ahead 3-2 and one out, Samardzija paid close attention to Buxton, throwing over to first three times. In the process, Samardzija struck out Brian Dozier for the second out, which prompted a visit from Ventura. Ventura had left-hander Zach Duke ready with lefty Rosario at the plate, but stayed with Samardzija, who made one more pickoff attempt, used a slide step on the first pitch to Rosario and Soto threw Buxton out stealing second.
“(Samardzija) was great, battled,” Ventura said. “The big one for me is there late with Buxton on first base. He really did a good job of holding, going out there and making sure he was quick, and give Geo a chance. It was a great throw by Geo.”
After he gave up 15 runs in two starts earlier this month, Samardzija has rebounded nicely. In his past three starts, Samardzija has 21 strikeouts and only two walks in 21 innings. The resurgence comes at a critical time for the White Sox, who barring an unforeseen run of dominance, one they haven’t produced through 70 games, will be open for business for the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline.
Samardzija could be one of the team’s most sought after assets if the White Sox decided to part with him, though they could opt for trying to sign him long term after the season and receiving a compensatory draft pick if he left via free agency.
Just like Samardzija, the White Sox offense got out to yet another slow start.
But they found their bats in time after stranding five runners in the first two innings, including the bases loaded in the first.
Soto followed a one-out double by Conor Gillaspie with a game-tying RBI single in the fourth inning. Two innings later, Soto tied it at 2 with an RBI single off Minnesota starter Mike Pelfrey on a 0-2 pitch.
“Geo played a heck of a game today,” Samardzija said. “He caught a great game behind the plate and had two huge hits that allowed me to take a breath and get back to work back there.”
The White Sox provided more breathing room as they finished with four two-out runs. Melky Cabrera, who doubled and scored in the sixth, singled in Jose Abreu with two outs in the seventh. Adam Eaton, who went 3-for-5, doubled in Carlos Sanchez to give the White Sox a 4-2 lead in the eighth.
Abreu, who had a career-high four hits, singled in the ninth and, combined with a Hunter error, scored from first on an Adam LaRoche single. Gordon Beckham doubled in another.
The team’s five hits with runners in scoring position were its most since it had five in a June 3 victory at Texas. From June 4 through Monday, the White Sox hit .171 with runners in scoring position (18-for-105) with five extra-base hits.
“When we woke up, we showed what we can do when we hit the ball well,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “But the most important thing is that the team won. We got a very good pitcher with Samardzija. The defense was very good. The offense was good tonight. This is the kind of game we’re expecting every day to have.”