OAKLAND — The San Francisco Giants believe their abysmal 2017 season was an aberration, manager Bruce Bochy said on Friday. Still in playoff contention after the All-Star break this year, the organization has reason to be optimistic.
But while the Giants have largely bounced back after losing 98 games, starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija remains stuck where he was for much of last season.
Last year, Samardzija posted the second-worst full-season ERA of his career. He’s now on the disabled list for the third time in four months, with recurrent shoulder problems likely contributing to his 6.25 ERA in limited action.
After undergoing an MRI and receiving a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection this week, Samardzija hopes to return shortly, but he’s willing to be patient with the rehab process, which he said he wasn’t during his initial bout with shoulder soreness.
“We just want to make sure that everything is 100-percent healthy going forward so I can help this team out,” Samardzija said. “We’re just kind of dealing with the same thing as before and just trying to avoid those flare-ups that we’ve had all year. … The good news is, after doing this once or twice we’ve got a really good plan with it moving forward.”
That plan includes a full reassessment of his training methods, bullpen session approach and pitching mechanics. Samardzija said something might have gone awry between his pain-free July 7 start against the St. Louis Cardinals and his last start against the Oakland A’s, which ended after four innings due to a dead arm feeling in his shoulder.
The right-hander said he could have fought through that sensation and avoided another stint on the disabled list, but he instead decided to be cautious, given the issue’s persistence. After all, his fastball has averaged 92.3 mph this year through 10 appearances, a worrisome drop from the 94.3 it averaged in 2017.
The Giants have benefitted from the work of several young pitchers the absence of Samardzija, and both Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto earlier this season. Rookie Andrew Suarez, 25, has gone 3-6 with a 3.94 ERA, but has gone five innings or more in each of his last seven starts with a 2.63 ERA.
Dereck Rodriguez, 26, is also in his first big league season, and brings a 2.89 ERA into his Friday start against Oakland. Recognizing that, Samardzija said he wants to return only when he can resemble his best form.
“Could I have continued to pitch from my last start? One hundred percent, absolutely,” Samardzija said. “Wouldn’t have been perfect, but would have been doable.”
Samardzija, in the third year of a five-year, $90 million contract, could throw a bullpen session this weekend. If he reaches that checkpoint, he would be evaluated for a potential start next week.
Third baseman Evan Longoria is expected to play five innings on Friday night and seven innings on Saturday with Triple-A Sacramento as he rehabs from a broken hand. He spent the All-Star break working out in Arizona.
Second baseman Joe Panik (left groin strain) took batting practice on Friday. He could begin a rehab stint soon, according to Bochy.
Just prior to Friday’s game, the Giants officially announced that first baseman Brandon Belt has been placed on paternity leave. He has been replaced on the roster with Ryder Jones. Bochy said Belt could be back as soon as Saturday.
Jones, 24, is in Friday’s starting lineup, and will hit seventh and play third base. He made 18 starts at third in 2017 for San Francisco, and he will make his season debut in the series opener against the A’s. Jones was hitting .299 with nine home runs and 48 RBI through 81 games with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats this season.