MINNEAPOLIS — Jeff Samardzija and Don Cooper spent a good portion of Saturday morning’s bullpen working on the slider.
While Samardzija feels good about his stuff, his pitching coach believes the variance in speed — it’s three miles per hour slower than in 2014, according to Fangraphs.com — has made other pitches, in particular the fastball, easier to detect.
Through five starts, the White Sox starter has seen his slider put in play more often (up about seven percent) and hitters have done more damage with a .528 slugging percentage versus .365 for his career, according to Brooksbaseball.net. But Samardzija’s sinker is where the real damage has been done. Batters are hitting .516 and slugging .742, up from .319 and .462 in the past.
“Sometimes you want (the slider) harder and sometimes you want it softer,” Samardzija said. “You’re trying to adjust your pitches to what you’re seeing from the hitters and what their approach is. I think we’re seeing a lot of aggressiveness on my fastball early, and I think the softer slider is a little bit more noticeable early in the counts.”
[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get a Jeff Samardzija jersey right here]
Neither the sinker nor slider worked well in Samardzija’s start on Wednesday in Baltimore.
Part of that could have been due to the layoff and the surreal circumstances in which the game was played, in front of an empty stadium after the previous two contests were cancelled because of rioting. The other part was a good game plan by the Orioles, who were aggressive early in the count.
Of the seven sliders Samardzija threw that ended an at-bat, one went for a double and the other a homer. Of the seven sinkers that ended an at-bat, four went for singles and another resulted in a double.
Samardzija gave up eight runs — all earned — over five innings. With his next start against Detroit on Tuesday, the right-hander could feature a harder, tighter version of the slider, as Cooper likes, with gameplan adjustments as well.
“You’re always working on it for sure, but I think you’re also adjusting it all the time based on the way the hitters are reacting to it,” Samardzija said. “Are they swinging at it or are they taking it? This is the game you go through throughout the season, a constant cat-and-mouse with your pitches, what you’re doing with them, where you’re locating them. They’ve got film on you, and you have film on them. There’s not too much unknown out there, so you always have to be mixing things up to stay ahead of the curve.”