Samardzija's velocity returns, but Phillies knock him out early in 'off night for everybody'


Samardzija's velocity returns, but Phillies knock him out early in 'off night for everybody'

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. 

Hunter Pence to hit leadoff for final four Giants games

Hunter Pence to hit leadoff for final four Giants games

SAN FRANCISCO — In the seventh inning Tuesday, the Giants turned it back to 2014. Left fielder Gregor Blanco lined a double into the left field corner and second baseman Joe Panik scored easily. Right fielder Hunter Pence chugged home from first, scoring the go-ahead run. 

Manager Bruce Bochy is looking to keep the throwback vibes going. 

After a 5-4 walk-off win over the Padres, Bochy said Pence will start the final four games of the season in the leadoff spot. This is a nod to a man who has meant more to a franchise than most, but it’s not simply about nostalgia. 

Right now, Pence, relegated to backup duty for most of his final season in San Francisco, might be Bochy’s hottest hitter. He had two hits Monday and scored three runs Tuesday, one coming on a homer to left. 

“I know he’s excited about being out there every day,” Bochy said. “He’s going to be leading off every game. He’s excited about being out there every day as we wrap up.”

More than anything, it seems like a cloud has been lifted for the fan favorite. He kept quiet about his future plans for most of September, but in recent days he has admitted that he hopes to play next season. He will try to play winter ball in an effort to prepare for another run somewhere, and he now seems to be taking it all in as his five-year contract approaches the finish line. 

“It’s a joy for me deep down inside to take this field for as many years as I have, and these last few games,” Pence said. 

It’s been a joy for his teammates this week, too. The dugout erupted when Pence hit his homer, and Blanco emphatically clapped at second as Pence hit the plate and jumped to his feat, screaming. Madison Bumgarner, who had the walk-off hit, credited both for the way they’re finishing this season. 

“It says a lot about the character of those two guys,” he said. “It’s tough this time of year to come and play as hard as you ordinarily would.”

That will never be in question with Pence. Bochy would have sent him out there the final four games anyway in recognition of all he has done, but it’s a nice boost that he’s playing so well. It’ll make it that much easier to write his name atop the lineup four more times, including in games that will matter for the Dodgers, and Pence seemed grateful for the opportunity. 

“I’ve been fortunate to have one game in the Major Leagues, much less as many as I’ve had,” he said.

Stiff-arm by Madison Bumgarner thwarts celebration after walk-off

Stiff-arm by Madison Bumgarner thwarts celebration after walk-off

SAN FRANCISCO — As Madison Bumgarner’s single rocketed into left, giving the Giants pitcher a walk-off in extra innings, right fielder Hunter Pence took off on a dead sprint. He was headed for the big left-hander, but not simply to celebrate. Pence has been around long enough to know that the other Giants needed to be careful about what they might try to pull in a celebration.

Infielder Alen Hanson was unable to be saved. 

Hanson grabbed a Gatorade jug and headed for the night’s hero. Bumgarner calmly put his right arm up and deflected the attempt. Somehow, Hanson emerged with a jersey that had turned red. 

“He started dumping it on me and I told him not to do it,” Bumgarner said. “So he poured it on himself.”

Yes, Madison Bumgarner is still the alpha in the room, and for good reason. The Giants ran out of position players even with a September roster stocked with extras, so they turned to their ace. He calmly drove in Gorkys Hernandez in the 12th, giving the Giants a 5-4 win over the Padres. The moment should have been out of place. For Bumgarner, it wasn’t. This has come to be expected, and Pence said he had a good feeling as Bumgarner grabbed a bat. 

Bumgarner simply shrugged it all off. He nearly snuck out of AT&T Park before reporters caught him in a hallway. Asked about the game-winner, he paused. 

“Wet,” he said. “Wet.”

Well, it wasn’t all that wet. Bumgarner’s right hand made sure of that. What, he doesn’t like Gatorade? 

“Not, like, on me. Not particularly, no,” he said. 

A few minutes later, Bumgarner was back on his way to the players’ parking lot. His next appearance here will come Friday against a Dodgers team that may need every win the rest of the way to clinch the NL West crown. Bumgarner was originally supposed to end his season on Wednesday, but the Giants pushed him back. This season will not end the way they hoped, but there’s still a chance for a measure of redemption. Knocking the Dodgers out would bring some joy to a downtrodden fan base, and Bumgarner is the sharpest weapon Bruce Bochy has. 

“Even though it’s not necessarily the kind of meaningful baseball we want, it’s still a meaningful game,” Bumgarner said. “Any time you play the Dodgers it’s competitive. I’m not trying to look at it as anything but pitching and doing your job. I’m not trying to add anything extra to it.”

There will be something extra, though. Giants-Dodgers with a division title on the line is great. Giants-Dodgers with a chance for one team to play the ultimate spoiler is still pretty damn exciting, so perhaps there’s another reason why Pence played bodyguard. 

The Giants want Bumgarner in peak form on Friday, so this celebration was short-lived. Bumgarner made sure of that. Asked how Bumgarner managed to avoid all that liquid flying around, Pence smiled.

“He was telling everyone he was going to kill them,” he said.