PHILADELPHIA — The locals were buzzing Monday afternoon, and not just because the 76ers had a playoff game on deck. The weather in Philadelphia has finally turned, and this city enjoyed some sunshine after a long and cold winter.
Jeff Samardzija enjoyed it, too … up to a certain point.
After a couple of weeks during which his fastball sat 90-92 mph in the early innings and basically topped out at 94, Samardzija came out firing 96 mph heaters in the first inning at Citizens Bank Park. What was the difference?
“It was a nice night out,” he said. “We were sweating a bit and getting going.”
That was the positive. The negative was that Samardzija had his manager sweating in the first inning, too. Bruce Bochy almost had to pull his starter during a 40-pitch frame that included three walks and a long homer from Odubel Herrera. The velocity is back. The command has disappeared. Samardzija has walked 13 batters in four starts. He walked 14 before the All-Star break last season. He said he needs to work on harnessing the velocity that has returned, and sharpening a slider that often times looked like a flat 90 mph fastball in an 11-0 loss.
“I’ve gotta get that slider right,” he said after lasting just four innings.
Still, the Giants were oddly happy given the blowout score. It’s easier to sharpen your command than it is to throw in the upper 90s, and Samardzija hit 97.3 mph in the third inning, a throwback to prior seasons.
“I was encouraged, really,” Bochy said. “He’s back to having normal stuff, velocity, everything. He’s got to get the command now. He’s been pitching without that and missing spots.”
Coming off a layoff for a shoulder injury, Samardzija admitted that his preparation has been affected. He can’t throw long bullpen sessions to try and tighten certain pitches, so he’ll need to find some other way to bring the slider back.
The Giants will need it, too, given their current state. The news on Johnny Cueto earlier in the day was viewed as a positive and a surprise, but the Giants still will spend the next month without their two best pitchers. They could use a nice run from Samardzija, and they’ll need the full squad to resemble the team from the weekend, not the one from Monday night. The lineup did nothing against Zach Eflin and made three errors in the field. The bullpen was hammered.
“It was just an off night of everybody,” Bochy said.