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.”

Reds, Rangers had Derek Holland interest before he re-signed with Giants


Reds, Rangers had Derek Holland interest before he re-signed with Giants

The Giants brought back starting pitcher Derek Holland on a one-year deal on Monday, which could be the start of more additions to the pitching staff.

Well, the team did make a pitching hire on Tuesday, but in the baseball operations department: hiring Matt Daniels as their coordinator of pitching analysis.

But back to Holland ...

The 31-year-old boasted solid numbers in 2018, with a 3.57 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 171.1 innings with the orange and black. And it turns out the former Ranger also received interest this offseason from his previous team and the Reds.

The Reds made a few pitching moves this offseason including losing free agent Matt Harvey to the Angels. Pitcher Homer Bailey also said his farewells in a blockbuster trade with the Dodgers, so starting pitching was certainly on the team's to-do list. It's on every team's to-do list, but you get the point.

NBC Sports Bay Area has learned the Rangers had interest in him in a possible reliever role, but bowed out in the end. Keeping him in the NL West would appear may be more beneficial to the lefty than the high-powered AL West anyway.

During the interview with MLB Network, Holland also took a few moments to talk about the man of the hour, or the man of the offseason, Madison Bumgarner.

MadBum has been a constant in trade talks for the Giants, but at the moment Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi is keeping him around. 

Holland must be pretty happy about that.

How Giants' park dimensions, location can help free agent recruiting


How Giants' park dimensions, location can help free agent recruiting

SAN FRANCISCO — For years, Giants officials have grumbled about the impact their home ballpark has on negotiations with free agents.

It’s no secret that sluggers do not want to play 81 games at Oracle Park, and the Giants have been kept from large portions of the position player market over the past decade. 

Farhan Zaidi will have to figure out a way to build an offense for his new park, but when it comes to another set of free agents, he’s not shying away from the dimensions at Third and King.

Multiple agents for free agents pitchers have mentioned this winter that Zaidi is using the pitcher-friendly park as one of his main selling points, and Zaidi said that’ll be an emphasis going forward. 

“Especially for guys looking for short-term deals, it’s very attractive,” Zaidi said at the Winter Meetings. “It’s a platform for guys coming off down years to come in and be productive, help us win games, and then also set themselves up well going forward.”  

Giants pitchers had a 3.62 ERA at home last season but it jumped to 4.29 on the road. A year earlier, they were third in the NL with a 3.73 home ERA, but ranked 11th on the road at 5.34.

The ballpark can be a pitcher’s best friend, hiding issues for even the best on the staff. When the Giants engaged in trade talks about Madison Bumgarner this winter, you can bet executives on the other side of the table brought up the 4.97 ERA on the road last season, which was more than three runs above his home ERA of 1.63.

Tony Watson, another potential trade chip, saw his ERA jump 2.46 runs when he got away from Oracle Park. 

Zaidi will have to deal with those issues when negotiating with other teams. But the flip side of that is an ability to use the park as a major selling point for free agents looking for a soft landing spot.

“We’ve found that, for players that have been in the National League West and have played a lot of games at (Oracle Park), it is a draw,” Zaidi said. “They know how energetic the crowd is and what a fun atmosphere it is. Any place you can look for an advantage in recruiting, you try to have that be part of your game plan. For pitchers looking to come here, to pitch in a friendly environment is certainly something we’re going to look to take advantage of.”

Zaidi hopes to add at least one more starter to the mix this offseason, perhaps another reclamation project like Derek Holland. While Holland’s ERA was virtually similar at home and on the road in his first season with the Giants, there were some big differences in the underlying numbers. His walk rate was far higher on the road and he allowed 14 homers in road games as opposed to just five at Oracle Park. 

Holland also has given plenty of credit to pitching coaches Curt Young and Matt Herges and catcher Buster Posey, and the Giants use that as a draw, too. But the ballpark is the easiest sell, in part because it’s guaranteed to always be there. Lineups and coaching staffs will change, but the Giants have no plans to alter the dimensions of their outfield, making their permanent home an ideal spot for any type of pitcher. 

Perhaps this will allow the Giants to stay away from the types of massive contracts they have given to the likes of Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Mark Melancon, knowing that lesser pitchers can take a massive step forward at Oracle Park. If the Giants are able to consistently do that, they’ll be able to save their resources, which will be needed.

They’ll always need to overpay to get the other half of the game’s best players — hitters — to Oracle Park, and you might see them going after a few more like Troy Tulowitzki, a Sunnyvale native who was a target but chose the Yankees.  

[RELATED: Zaidi reveals timetable for Giants' next move]

"I love hearing that a guy is a Bay Area native, and if not a Bay Area native, a California native," Zaidi said. "I think that’s a certain pull. California guys want to play in this state."