PITTSBURGH — Jeff Samardzija was not brought here to be the ace or leader of a staff. He wasn’t even the biggest pitching addition of his own offseason, as the Giants signed Johnny Cueto a couple weeks after inking Samardzija.
But this is Samardzija’s staff right now. Cueto is hurt and Madison Bumgarner is a month away from his own return, leaving Samardzija to lead a group that includes three young pitchers and a non-roster invitee. So it was notable when Samardzija put the onus on the pitching staff after being asked about this strange road trip.
“We pitched in Atlanta,” he said of the three-game sweep that preceded six losses. “That’s the best way to describe it.”
They have not in the state of Pennsylvania, and that includes Samardzija. Saturday was his best outing of the season, but that’s a low bar, and it still was nowhere near his standards. Samardzija was a strike away from a quality start and six innings but Francisco Cervelli took him deep to give the Pirates a two-run lead. When the Giants rallied to tie it, Tony Watson gave up the go-ahead run. The Giants lost 6-5. They are now 3-6 on the road trip. Samardzija said there’s only one way to turn it around. As always with this organization, it starts with pitching.
“As a veteran guy you’ve got to get in there and talk to these guys and let them know what’s important,” he said. “Definitely at this point as a starting staff we’ve got to get in there and throw more innings.”
Samardzija wasn’t able to finish the sixth, and he was a spectator when a weird rally put the Pirates on top for good. Watson had been unbeatable before returning to his longtime home, but he gave up a three-run blast Friday. On his first pitch Saturday, Josh Bell stroked a double. After a groundout, Cervelli was intentionally walked to put the pressure on pinch-hitter David Freese. He hit a chopper to third and Evan Longoria scooped it as his momentum took him to the plate. Bell had broken for home, but he spun and whirled around Longoria, who paused for a second and missed his chance to throw Freese out at first or tag Bell. That loaded the bases, and Watson hit Mercer to bring in the winning run.
Halfway into his third answer a few minutes later, Bruce Bochy pivoted and credited his players for showing more energy and playing a cleaner game. It certainly beat the ball they played in Philadelphia or on Friday, but this was still a night with too many negatives.
Alen Hanson, who hit his fourth homer early on, pulled up while scoring the tying run and was pulled with a tight left hamstring. He’ll be reevaluated Sunday, but the Giants are in a bind. They already have just four players on their bench and Kelby Tomlinson, who will start Sunday, has served as their only backup middle infielder.
The roster is so imbalanced because of the staff’s desire to carry eight relievers, and Bochy doesn’t anticipate that changing anytime soon. But it will have to. This is unsustainable for the position players — several of whom could use a day off. The easiest way to cut a reliever would be to get length from the starting staff.
For a moment, it looked like Samardzija would finally do it. But on a night when he got better as the game went on, he could not finish what he started.
“That’s the most frustrating thing,” he said. “When you feel you have your good stuff you want to take advantage of that.”