Giants

Samardzija still follows lessons learned on gridiron from Willingham

Samardzija still follows lessons learned on gridiron from Willingham

SAN FRANCISCO — Jeff Samardzija was a two-sport star in high school and at Notre Dame. He has played for four different big league organizations over 10 seasons, and spent parts of five seasons in the minor leagues. 

Samardzija had many options when asked to choose someone he wanted to honor at the annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, and given the way his career has played out, he made a somewhat surprising decision. During the event that airs on NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday night at 9 p.m., Samardzija will honor former Notre Dame football coach Tyrone Willingham, who finished the recruitment of Samardzija to Notre Dame but was let go before the wide receiver became a national star.

Samardzija said Willingham’s lessons during their two years together “have always stuck with me,” and like many of the athletes who have presented at the Game Changer Awards in recent years, he made his choice because of the things that were taught when the spotlight was off. 

“I think he was always, in a sense, coaching,” Samardzija said. “He was such a big attitude coach. He was always big about the way you approach things and handle things and look forward and just the way you carry yourself. There are great times in sports and then there are down times in your career, and how you handle both of those situations is always so important. 

“Also what stuck with me was just the way he never stopped teaching. He always found moments. If he saw you slacking in that given moment, he wasn’t afraid to jump all over you. He just was always about doing things the right way and pressing the fact that if you stay in that process over time, things are going to go in your favor.”

More than a decade after his football career ended, Samardzija is still taking that approach. He is the same after games whether the Giants won or lost, always pushing the need to move on from that day’s game and focus on the next one. Even in a 98-loss season, Samardzija was relentlessly positive, and on the mound he found improvements to his command that took parts of his game to a new level. 

Without Willingham, though, it’s possible that Samardzija never would have turned into a veteran starter known for cranking out one 200-inning season after the next. Samardzija went to Notre Dame on a football scholarship and Willingham didn’t have to let him play baseball in the spring. But Willingham had been a two-sport athlete himself at Michigan State, and he made it a priority to keep Samardzija well-rounded. 

“To have that power and to not abuse it, I’m forever grateful for it,” Samardzija said. “It takes a good man to be able to look forward and see what could be and to not prevent a kid his opportunities and limit his opportunities.”

For more from Samardzija on Willingham, his Notre Dame career, and the moves the Giants have made this offseason, check out his interview on the Giants Insider Podcast.

Giants notes: Bruce Bochy praises fight despite loss to A's

Giants notes: Bruce Bochy praises fight despite loss to A's

OAKLAND — After off days, Bruce Bochy occasionally admits that he spent his free hours watching more baseball. He’s a fan of the game, whether he’s managing or not. On Saturday night, he was able to appreciate a game played well, even if it didn’t come with a win. 

Bochy mentioned repeatedly that he appreciated how hard the Giants fought despite the fact that they lost 4-3 in extra innings. They appeared to be done about an hour earlier when Alen Hanson struck out, but the third strike was wild and Hanson reached with two outs in the ninth. He scored the tying run on Hunter Pence’s double into the bullpen that came with some chair controversy. 

“That’s what speed does,” Bochy said. “Hanson was flying and scored easily.”

The Giants did a lot of good things. The bullpen was dominant after Madison Bumgarner lost his command. Brandon Belt hit a homer. Pence had his first three-hit game of the season. Brandon Crawford made two incredible catches on pop-ups. It didn’t lead to a win.

“That was a great ballgame,” Bochy said. “You hate to say that when you lose, but these guys fought hard.”

—- Belt was hitless in 18 at-bats when he took Trevor Cahill deep. He snapped a streak of 63 at-bats without a homer.

—- The Giants have started switching their shifts this season, with Crawford and the third baseman swapping positions in certain counts so that Crawford can patrol an entire side of the infield. It paid off in the sixth. Matt Olson hit a pop-up toward the bullpen and Crawford took off on a dead sprint.

He snagged the ball about 150 feet from where he started. According to Statcast, Crawford reached a sprint speed of 28.8 feet per second, his fastest sprint of the season on any play.

In the 11th, Crawford went a lot way into right-center for another eye-popping grab. That one saved Hanson, who had missed two earlier pop-ups. 

—- Steven Duggar struck out in nearly a third of his at-bats in the minors this season, and we’re starting to see some of that up here. Duggar struck out twice in the series opener and twice Saturday. He has at least one strikeout in every game he has played since a promotion, and double-digit strikeouts in five of his eight starts. 

—- Evan Longoria (fractured finger) was hitless in four at-bats in his second rehab game. He’s 2-for-7 in two games and could play nine innings Sunday in a bid to speed things up. 

—- It’s not quite Scoreboard Watching Season, but… you’re always watching the team atop your division. The Dodgers lost 4-2 to the Brewers, who got two shutout innings from Josh Hader. The controversial reliever’s first road appearance will come Thursday in San Francisco, by the way. 

 

Madison Bumgarner loses feel for strike zone in 'weird situation'

Madison Bumgarner loses feel for strike zone in 'weird situation'

OAKLAND — For the first time since April 16, 2015, Madison Bumgarner did not complete five innings. He did not get hurt. He did not really get rocked, either. He just lost the strike zone during a strange sequence that even he couldn’t really explain after having a couple hours to think about it. 

Bumgarner walked five of the final seven batters he faced, including four of five in the fifth inning, and Bruce Bochy had no choice but to come out and get his ace. The Giants would go on to lose 4-3 in the 11th inning, but they probably didn’t even expect to be around that long given how the fifth unfolded. 

Bumgarner had walked two batters with the bases loaded in all his starts prior to this one. He walked back-to-back A’s with the bases loaded in the fifth. Sam Dyson got him out of the jam, but enough damage had been done that the Giants weren’t able to put this one away in nine innings, despite allowing just two hits to that point. 

Asked if he felt as off as he looked, Bumgarner paused. 

“Yes and no, I guess,” he said. “The first four innings I was cruising, pretty much. In the fifth I just couldn’t find the zone. I was trying to throw strikes. I wasn’t trying to pitch to corners… It was a weird situation to just kind of lose your feel for a minute.”

Bumgarner is maniacal about his mechanics, and he said he already had ruled out any issue there. His velocity was fine, so there was little reason for bigger-picture concern. It was just an odd stretch.

“That’s unlike Bum,” Bochy said. “But it happens occasionally.”

A night like this had never happened to Bumgarner before. He walked a career-high six batters. Bumgarner wasn’t particularly sharp from the start, missing his spots repeatedly even on pitches that were called strikes. Several others leaked from corners to the heart of the plate, but he escaped disaster until the fifth. 

A walk of Matt Olson and Matt Chapman's bloop single to right put the A’s in business. Bumgarner loaded the bases by walking Chad Pinder. The bullpen didn’t stir, but a few moments later there was action. Bumgarner went 3-2 on Josh Phegley and just missed with a fastball inside. Dyson started to warm up. Bumgarner then went 3-2 on Marcus Semien and missed with a cutter outside that never scared the plate. Dyson took over from there. 

“I just lost the feel there there in the fifth,” Bumgarner said. “I just couldn’t throw strikes. That’s it.”

That meant he couldn’t stick around as long as he normally does. Bumgarner had completed five innings in a franchise-record 89 consecutive starts. That was the longest active streak in the big leagues. He reacted harshly a few weeks back when a reporter mentioned records. This time, he admitted this particular run meant something, if only because of what it represents. 

“The whole idea is going deep into games,” he said.

For once, Bumgarner wasn’t able to do so.