Old-school Jeff Samardzija excited to work with Gabe Kapler, Giants staff

Old-school Jeff Samardzija excited to work with Gabe Kapler, Giants staff

SCOTTSDALE. Ariz. -- The best quote after Bruce Bochy announced his retirement last spring came from Jeff Samardzija, an old-school pitcher who loved playing for one of the last old-school managers.

"He's just a dying breed," Samardzija said last February. "Unfortunately after this you're going to have 30 puppets out there."

You would think, then, that Samardzija had some skepticism when the Giants in November hired Gabe Kapler, who always will have to fight the perception that he's an extension of president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi. But on his first day in camp, Samardzija, who wasn't at FanFest, said repeatedly that he's excited about Kapler and the new staff. 

Samardzija spent the previous offseason in San Francisco so he could rehab a shoulder injury and he repeated the routine this year. That meant he quite often ran into Kapler in the weight room at Oracle Park.

"He's a former Cross-Fit champ, which is impressive. That's what I took from the offseason with him," Samardzija said, smiling. "He asked me a couple times to work out with him and I respectfully declined every time. He's an intense guy but not like overly intense, where it's exhausting to where you want to avoid the person, which I think can happen sometimes with people that are just really ultra-intense.

"But he just comes from the point of wanting the players to like him and be a players' manager, so all of that intensity and that energy to me just comes across as going in the right direction for the right reasons."

Samardzija, a 12-year veteran, is starting his fifth season where he has played for a new manager, so he didn't anticipate much of an adjustment when the Giants brought Kapler in. He shrugged as he talked about a story he read that called Bochy and Kapler polar opposites. 

"That's true, but not in a bad sense," Samardzija said. "There are a lot of different ways to skin a cat, and I'm excited to see his way."

Kapler's way will lean heavily on Samardzija, at least in the first year. He has mentioned the right-hander often in offseason interviews and is counting on Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to lead an inexperienced staff. There's a chance Samardzija is the Opening Day starter, but regardless, the Giants want the 35-year-old to set the tone. 

"I'm a pretty old-school guy. I like talent. I love finding diamonds in the rough, I think it's important and it's necessary to win and do the things you want to do," Samardzija said. "But when it comes down to it you've got to have them dogs out there that love playing and love going out and that's just what they do, it doesn't matter what they're getting paid or where they're at. That's what excites me about this staff and Kap and with Farhan -- to be successful as a team you need to have 25 guys who are here for the same reason which is to play hard and love this game.

"My job is to go out and set the tone for the young kids and how to get this done and the mentality to go about it. I'm just looking forward to getting 25 guys on this team who live and breath baseball and understand that every day is important, every win is important. Even if you lose, how you lose is important.

"What kind of image are you setting for the other team and how hard to you play? I think that's important."

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That's right in line with what Kapler has been preaching. The Giants want a competitive camp and Samardzija, a former football star, seems ready to step to the front of the line. He was all smiles as he walked into a new clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium, and he said he is eager to get to work with a new manager and a staff that is largely made up of coaches who are younger than Samardzija is. 

"Once we figure out who are minor league invites and who the coaches are, we'll go from there," he joked.

Madison Bumgarner admits he has rodeo alias, competed while on Giants


Madison Bumgarner admits he has rodeo alias, competed while on Giants

Madison Bumgarner no longer is a Giant, but his legend keeps growing. 

The longtime San Francisco left-hander signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in free agency this winter after a decade-long orange-and-black tenure defined by epic postseason performances, horseback rides into the Oracle Park outfield and the revelation he once dated a girl named Madison Bumgarner. His latest disclosure undoubtedly tops the list.

The Athletic's Zach Buchanan and Andrew Baggarly revealed Sunday that Bumgarner has competed in multiple rodeos under the alias "Mason Saunders," and "Saunders" confirmed it was all true in an interview with the outlet. 

“Oh boy,” Bumgarner told Buchanan and Baggarly when they showed Bumgarner a photo of him from a Dec. 3 rodeo where he won $26,560 in a team-roping competition. “This is ruining my alias.”

The photo was taken just under two weeks before Bumgarner signed with the Diamondbacks, and the ace also admitted he competed in an event in March 2019 while he was still with the Giants. That event, according to Buchanan and Baggarly, came two days before he made a start in Spring Training against the Oakland A's and just under two years after the Giants placed him on the disabled list following an off-day dirt-bike accident in Denver.

Bumgarner missed nearly three months that season, making just 17 starts. He did tell the Wrangler Network in 2014 that he ropes right-handed, however, and he told Buchanan and Baggarly that the alias was more about avoiding attention than keeping secrets from his former and current employers.

He used an alias, but this is still ultra-competitive Madison Bumgarner we're talking about. 

“No matter what hobbies I have, I take ‘em serious,” Bumgarner told Buchanan and Baggarly. “That’s just my personality. I don’t do anything just for fun, per se. I wish I did.”

[RELATED: Top Giants prospect Hjelle lights it up in his spring debut]

Bumgarner will make his first visit to Oracle Park since signing a five-year, $85 million contract with Arizona on April 6 when the Diamondbacks visit San Francisco for a four-game set. 

Some bitter Giants fans might relish the chance to address the 30-year-old and the horse he rode out on, but they probably didn't know how real the euphemism was until Buchanan and Baggarly got the scoop.

Giants prospect Sean Hjelle shines, lights up radar gun in spring debut

Giants prospect Sean Hjelle shines, lights up radar gun in spring debut

MESA, Ariz. -- With the Giants nursing a one-run lead in the eighth inning Sunday, manager Gabe Kapler called right-handed prospect Luis Madero into the game. As Madero faced the A's, Sean Hjelle started warming up in the bullpen. Kapler saw Hjelle getting loose and called down to make sure he knew he was getting the ninth, not part of the eighth. 

"He was the one pitcher today who got loose before we told him to get loose," Kapler said, smiling. 

The 22-year-old, picked one round after Joey Bart in the 2018 draft, was excited to make his spring debut for the big league club and hid any butterflies. Hjelle is known for standing 6-foot-11 and having uncanny command and body control for a pitcher that size. But he came out throwing 95 mph and bumped 96 in a perfect inning, closing out a 5-3 win that clinched Kapler's first handshake line in orange and black. 

"As much as we're excited by his stuff, we're also excited by him pounding the strike zone," Kapler said. "That's certainly encouraging to see him come out there in this situation, certainly a nerve-wracking situation, and fill up the zone with his fastball."

Hjelle, the organization's top pitching prospect, reached Double-A last season and could debut this year. It was one inning and he was amped up, but the ceiling certainly will get a bit higher if he's sitting 95 in the future instead of the low 90s. The Giants always have felt there was more velocity in that massive frame. 

Here are four more observations from the first 18 innings of the Kapler Era ... 

--- There was a new whiteboard up in the clubhouse this morning with a bunch of circles and a spot for each game this spring. A photo of a beaming Austin Slater was glued inside the first circle, making him the "baserunning BOSS" from Saturday's game. The Giants have put a heavy emphasis on leads and turns this spring and the new staff has identified that as one area they can gain an edge. One player will be recognized after every game. 

We'll see if it works. This isn't a roster with much speed, but guys were aggressive Sunday and it led to a couple runs. Kapler credited first base coach Antoan Richardson for his work thus far. 

"We really want them to push the envelope," he said. 

--- Kapler has been hesitant to offer many public criticisms, but when asked about Derek Rodriguez the other day, he immediately mentioned that the staff needed to see more velocity from the starter/reliever heading into his third season. Rodriguez's average fastball dropped from 91.6 to 90.7 year over year. Rodriguez pumped a few 93s in his first inning of the spring and generally sat at 92, a positive sign this early.

"The first day of the spring, I'm happy about that," he said. 

Rodriguez said he took just two weeks off in the offseason -- to plan for his wedding -- and then got to work on mechanical changes. He made three Winter League starts and was encouraged by how he felt there. 

--- When Max Muncy came up early in Saturday's game, Evan Longoria shifted over to the right side but he didn't stand where he would last year. Longoria played kind of behind the first baseman, with Donovan Solano playing up the middle behind the bag. Last year the Giants had Longoria shift over between the second baseman and shortstop; this year he's between the second baseman and first baseman. It makes a lot more sense this way, allowing the actual second baseman to stay close to the bag where he might have to make a turn.

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--- Some early standouts, aside from Mauricio Dubon and Joey Bart, who homered Saturday: Matt Carasiti, a non-roster invite who struck out the side in his lone inning and got A.J. Pollock and Kiké Hernandez ... Abiatal Avelino, who hit a laser onto the berm in left on Sunday ... Kean Wong, who had two hits and showed his speed ... Finally, Rob Brantly, who has brought constant energy to camp and capped Sunday's game by yelling "Never in doubt!" as the Giants celebrated a spring win. Every team needs a quirky backup catcher, right?