SAN FRANCISCO – Jeff Samardzija established a series of check marks for himself this spring, but somewhere along that path he realized that fate had changed.
The Giants no longer wanted him to be a workhorse of 200 innings, so Samardzija struggled to return from a shoulder injury that broke the season, focused on a new goal. He would do tone More, but throw less. He mixed his pitches, mounted hitters and used all his arsenal. Most of his nights would be shorter, but hopefully more successful.
On Thursday, Samardzija had the best of both worlds.
The right-hander had the Rockies out of balance all night in what became their best start in more than a year, scattering three hits and throwing seven shut innings in a 1-0 victory. Samardzija got his first victory since last April when Kevin Pillar hit his third homer of the week in the top of the eighth.
Through three starts, Samardzija has a 1.62 ERA. He had a 6.25 ERA last season.
PILAR POWER ? pic.twitter.com/4A11FbHSc3
– SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) April 12, 2019
"Last year was not a great year for me, but I learned a lot," Samardzija said. "Going out and throwing around 15 times with nothing and with a hurt arm, even if it's Double-A or Triple-A, it does not matter, you can still find ways to go out with B, C". Go out and feel good, do not take it for granted and adopt the same approach as before.
"It's just not hurting things in the area, being smart, understanding which tones work well for you that day and really hitting them and using them." It has definitely been a small evolution for me and a process.
Samardzija made the Rockies hitters mutter to themselves early, and Charlie Blackmon nearly made his way into an ejection after taking a third hit called in the third inning. Samardzija had 13 strikes in the first three innings alone, equaling his high of his two previous outings. He finished with 20 called strikes, and three of his seven strikeouts were watching.
"When the referee sees you hitting your points when you are supposed to do it, many times you get hit," said Samardzija. "These umps are paying attention to the game and when you execute them, they reward you for it."
Four of the strikeouts came in the slider and three in the cutter, and all were in pitches between 80 and 89 mph. Certainly, there has been a change in strategy, since the Samardzija fastball has decreased: it reached a maximum of 94.1 mph on Thursday and its maximum of the season is 94.4, but it is working. Samardzija entered the night throwing his sinker, slider and cutter between 22 and 27 percent of the time, with four sewing and curves also mixed. He also had the same opportunity against the Rockies, throwing 29 sinkers, 26 sliders and 23 cutters. According to Baseball-Savant.com.
"He's definitely mixing more of his pitches," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He still uses his fastball very well, but he's not a guy trying to break into a lineup … I think it's fair to say he was more of a powerful guy and that he's evolved."
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Bochy will continue to evolve with his use of Samardzija. He said that even this exit did not tempt him to let Samardzija regularly receive more than 100 pitches. The focus is on five really good entries. Anything beyond that is salsa, and on Thursday that's what Bochy got. This was Samardzija's longest non-scoring start since he pitched a shutout on August 28, 2017. His seven strikeouts were his biggest participation since September 15 of that season.
"It felt good," Samardzija said. "Today was a good day."