Samardzija's return overshadowed by another quiet day for Giants' lineup

Samardzija's return overshadowed by another quiet day for Giants' lineup

SAN FRANCISCO — A few minutes after a quiet loss at AT&T Park, manager Bruce Bochy was asked whether his team could go on a run now that the top three starters in the rotation are together for the first time. 

That idea, one the Giants have clung to for much of the first half, misses a key point. This team is not 46-45 because of starting pitching woes. The injuries opened opportunities for Dereck Rodriguez and Andrew Suarez, and the two have exceeded any expectations the front office could have had, not just for rookies, but for starters in general.

This team is not a game above .500 because of starting pitching. It is a game above .500 because of maddening inconsistency, and that has shown throughout a skid that has undone the good work accomplished during a sweep of the Diamondbacks last weekend. 

This time, the culprit is the offense. It often is, but this skid is particularly ugly. The Giants lost 3-2 on Saturday. They have scored just 10 runs in their last six games, losing five of them. It doesn’t matter what your rotation consists of when you’re swinging it like that. 

“We’ve got some guys that aren’t in a zone right now, so to speak,” Bochy said. “We’ll come out of this. You guys have seen how we can put runs on the board.”

That’s what makes all this so baffling. This group scored nine runs last Sunday to complete a sweep but has barely matched that total in the six days since. The Giants failed to take advantage of Coors Field or a couple of young Cardinals starters, and on Saturday that left them facing a tough test. Carlos Martinez is one of the best in the game, and the Giants got just one run off him.

On the other side, Jeff Samardzija gave up three over five innings in his first start since May 29. The line didn’t really matter. What did was that Samardzija felt no irritation in his shoulder, which has bugged him all year. He said his first stint in the big leagues this season was about trying to “will” himself through the soreness. This time, everything was normal.

“The mistakes aren’t because of the arm,” he said. “They’re just because of execution of pitches.”

In an odd way, that’s encouraging for both player and team. Samardzija’s fastball was up a tick from his first go-around this year, but it’s clear he’s still battling rust. He said he’s confident it will get better by the start, and Bochy agrees. 

“I thought he was pretty good the first game back,” he said. 

The Giants will be better with Samardzija and Johnny Cueto back. At the very least, they have bumped others into lesser roles, and Derek Holland looks like a potentially valuable piece as a left-handed reliever. The pitching staff is fine, but it hasn’t mattered during this slump. 

The lineup couldn’t get to Martinez, which left an even tougher task: Trying to come back against Jordan Hicks, the rookie who rests above 100 mph. Brandon Belt did smack triple digits back up the middle to cut the deficit to one, but that was all. Hicks maxed out at 102.7 mph in the eighth, bringing some juice to a ballpark that’s been lacking.

“That’s pretty impressive, isn't it?” Bochy said. “You see (Aroldis) Chapman, but it looks like (Hicks) is taking it up just a notch. That’s a big arm. That’s as big an arm as I’ve seen.”

MLB free agency debate: Where will Manny Machado sign this offseason?

MLB free agency debate: Where will Manny Machado sign this offseason?

Editor's note: Each day this week, Giants insider Alex Pavlovic and A's reporter Ben Ross will debate where one of the top five free agents might land this offseason. Wednesday's free agent to discuss is Manny Machado, a four-time All-Star infielder who has spent the last half of the 2018 season with the Dodgers.

ALEX: Ben, people have been looking forward to this free agent class for years, but it ended up being a little underwhelming. Clayton Kershaw didn't opt out, guys like Dallas Keuchel, Josh Donaldson and Andrew McCutchen dropped off a bit, and former All-Stars like Hunter Pence have totally fallen off the map.

But it's still a historic class with two young superstars at the top -- Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. We talked about Harper on Monday. Machado is the better all-around player, but there's a cloud hanging over his head after his postseason behavior.

[RELATED: Debate -- Where will Brantley sign?]

Personally, I don't think that'll cost him money. Aroldis Chapman got paid and Roberto Osuna got traded to a contender. Machado will get his big deal somewhere. What do you think?

BEN: Agreed. Machado is a special talent. He’s already a four-time All-Star and still just 25 years old. He is going to get his $300+ million contract from someone. So who are the contenders? I’m thinking the Yankees and Phillies are the frontrunners.

I don’t see him staying with the Dodgers, but maybe the Angels try to make a splash? How about the Cubs or White Sox? Who am I missing?

ALEX: I do wonder if the Mets will get involved if their new GM can convince them to spend. The Angels are a nice darkhorse for a lot of these guys. Some people have speculated he could go home to Miami.

But it sounds like the Yankees and Phillies have been out in front of this one. I'm going to lean towards the Phillies, because they have to get Harper or Machado, and I think Machado is the better fit. What's the official Ben Ross prediction? 

BEN: I've thought all along he would end up with the Yankees and I'll stick with that. I know there are reports they're concerned with Machado's comments about hustling -- not to mention his other antics -- but I don't think they'll be scared off. They have the opportunity to put Machado, Stanton, and Judge all in the same lineup. I'll say Machado gets 12 years, $325 million.

ALEX: I'm going to take the under. If the Yankees aren't that serious, there aren't enough major suitors out there to push his market where he wants it to end up. I'll say the Phillies get their guy, but at $261 million over nine years.

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Wednesday is dedicated to free agent infielder Manny Machado.

'No red flags' for six injured Giants six weeks into the offseason


'No red flags' for six injured Giants six weeks into the offseason

SAN FRANCISCO -- A few hours before the Giants named Farhan Zaidi their new president of baseball operations, assistant general manager Jeremy Shelley stood in the lobby of the Omni Resort in Carlsbad and looked down at a notecard full of names. He had been asked about the large collection of Giants who finished the season on crutches or in slings. 

"No red flags," he said.

Zaidi's first order of business will be to build depth for a team that was crushed by injuries in 2018. That effort will be helped by the fact that all of the rehabbing Giants appear to be doing well. They're all on schedule, or in some cases, a little ahead.

It starts with catcher Buster Posey, of course. He's off his crutches and walking normally two and a half months after major hip surgery. Posey has been rehabbing five days per week in the Bay Area, and remains on pace to start baseball work in January.

Shelley said Posey "definitely" will be ready for activity in spring training, as the Giants had anticipated all along.

When Posey shows up in Scottsdale, he'll at some point run into Johnny Cueto. The right-hander is back in the Dominican Republic right now after months of rehab work in Arizona. He'll continue physical therapy at his offseason home and return to Scottsdale in February to begin a throwing program. There's still a chance that Cueto, who had Tommy John surgery, can return for a few starts at the end of next season.

First baseman Brandon Belt, who had a knee cleanup, is off his crutches and doing well. Steven Duggar (shoulder surgery), the likely Opening Day center fielder, just finished his rehab work in Arizona. He'll return to be checked later this month and then start a hitting program the first week of January. Austin Slater went down the last week of the season with an elbow sprain, but the young outfielder has started a throwing program and also is on schedule. 

Finally, there's a player who never made it back to the big leagues after a concussion. Shelley said Mac Williamson was cleared of symptoms in September and has had a normal offseason.

"He should be on schedule to compete for a job in spring training," Shelley said.

Williamson is out of options, so next spring is a big one for a player who looked headed for a breakout before he went down.