SAN FRANCISCO — There was a smile plastered to Jeff Samardzija’s face Friday and Saturday, and why wouldn’t there be?
A year ago at this time, the Giants right-hander was preparing for a camp in which his shoulder never quite got there. He knew there was something wrong, but he didn’t reveal it until late March, when there was nothing else he could do on the mound to hide his condition. It was a year of starts-and-stops for the veteran, but after the most tedious offseason of his career, he’s ready to head in one direction.
“My arm is craving more work and wants to throw long toss, wants to throw bullpens and sliders and curveballs and everything,” Samardzija said. “All I can go by is how I feel and I feel really good.”
Samardzija knows this is not the end game, or anywhere close. He spent most of last summer ramping it up in bullpen sessions, saying he felt good, only to return to a big league mound and see 91 mph on the radar gun. Doctor after doctor told Samardzija he didn’t need surgery, which was a relief, but also led to some confusion. Ultimately, the Giants decided the 34-year-old needed an offseason of rest and rehab.
Samardzija, a former college football star, always has been such a good athlete that you could picture him rolling out of bed in mid-February and pumping 97. But he rededicated himself this offseason, starting his work the day after a disappointing season ended.
He has lived in the Scottsdale area in the past, but he stayed in San Francisco this winter, working out at the ballpark three times per week and a San Mateo rehab facility twice per week. By Thanksgiving, he was cleared to start throwing. As camp approaches, he’s already deep into bullpen session mode.
The Giants need to make gains everywhere in order to stay in contention, and a healthy Samardzija would be a boost. A lot of fans gave up on him last season, but the Giants happily would take a repeat of his 2017, when he led the league in innings, struck out 205 batters and provided 2.5 Wins Above Replacement.
Farhan Zaidi, now the Giants’ president of baseball operations, was in Oakland when the A’s traded a massive package to the Cubs for Samardzija in 2014. He knows what he can provide, but he also is well-versed in Samardzija’s 2018 issues at this point. He has said repeatedly this offseason that the Giants will not push Samardzija too hard. They have enough rotation depth that they can ease him in if the shoulder isn’t fully ready. Zaidi said it would be a “read and react” situation in terms of Samardzija’s innings this year.
“(But) he’s going to be built up as a regular guy,” he said.
Samardzija isn’t planning for an easy April. He’s eager to put 2018 behind him, and he believes his shoulder will cooperate. Samardzija said last year was a tough one. But it’s 2019, and thus far he’s all smiles.
“I’m just excited to get back into that routine of being a pitcher, man,” he said.