GORACLE PARK — Jeff Samardzija re-tooled his body and refreshed his approach over this offseason. To hear him tell it, he didn’t really even have an offseason: Every day was a work day.
Coming back from an injury-plagued 2018, he wanted to become the workhorse he had been for most of his career. So far, it had worked as he was, outside of Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco’s most consistent arm, with a 3.69 ERA (his best since 2014) in nine starts.
While Samardzija served up back-to-back homers in Wednesday’s 9-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves, most of the blame was tough to lay at his feet. Samardzija was nearly out of the second inning three times, but instead, two busted double plays and a wild pitch on a strikeout of arguably one of the tougher hitters in the league added up to a six-run inning.
“It’s a shame, because Shark threw real well,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “That was some of his best stuff.”
With one out and a man on first, Ozzie Albies sent Samardzija’s 14th pitch of the second back to the box, and as Samardzija speared it, he wheeled to start a double play at second. The problem was, the Giants infield was shifted, and Evan Longoria — playing at short — and Brandon Crawford — playing on the right side of the bag — didn’t seem to communicate.
Longoria paused as he saw Crawford coming over, and as the two came together the ball went between them, with Crawford finally stopping it. Both Albies and Austin Riley (aboard on a walk) were safe on what Samardzija called a freak play. It’s not a play that’s practiced often.
“I turned around and just saw center field, so I was going to try and lead one of them towards the bag,” Samardzija said. “Obviously, at that point, it was just too late. Just a weird play. There’s a lot of great things about these shifts, but it does sometimes take guys out of double play position. It’s just a freak thing. If I let that ball go, Longo probably picks it up, touches second, throws it to first for a double play.”
An RBI grounder to second by Fried saw Donovan Solano — playing in place of resting Joe Panik — flip the ball wide to Crawford at the bag, and San Francisco botched its second double play. Riley scored on the play to give the Braves a 1-0 lead. A Samardzija wild pitch on a splitter to strike out Ronald Acuña Jr. — again, the would-be third out of the inning — brought in Albies.
“It hadn’t been doing that all night,” Samardzija said. “In truth, it had a little fade to it, a little drop consistently, and was a really good pitch for me, all night … That one just, we’ll go back and watch the film on how to repeat that, because that pitch was really nasty, man, and it hit the corner of the plate, just something to learn. If we can have that pitch with us every night, we’re going to be alright.”
Atlanta then hit back-to-back homers for the second time this season — a Dansby Swanson three-run job to left center and a solo shot to center by Freddie Freeman.
The Braves (27-23) batted around, Samardzija threw 36 pitches and not one of those six runs was earned — a career high for Samardzija, according to Bill Arnold of the Sports Features Group. His previous high was four, in Sept. 8, 2008 when he was with the Cubs. To put Samardzija’s night into perspective, only one other time in San Francisco Giants history has a pitcher gone at least six innings and given up six runs, without allowing an earned run: Sept. 14, 1986, a 7-6 Giants win that saw Mike LaCoss go seven innings, allow seven hits and six unearned runs, while walking two and striking out five.
After Freeman’s homer, Samardzija retired 12 of the next 14 men he faced and got through six innings — something he’s done just once this year, on April 11— while throwing a season-high 107 pitches (68 strikes) and striking out seven and walking two. Other than the second, he largely kept a lid on a powerful lineup, led by Acuña, that’s ninth in the majors in slugging and sixth in OPS.
“It’s not ideal, and it’s really frustrating when you have good stuff and the day doesn’t turn out the way you want it to,” Samardzija said. “It’s fun to go out there and have all the pitches and feel confidence out there against their hitters.”
San Francisco (21-27) got a run back in the fourth on a Buster Posey drive off the top of the brick wall in right, but as he drove in Tyler Austin, he was cut down at second on a barehand field-and-fire throw by Nick Markakis. Austin added yet another run with a solo shot into the arcade in right with two outs in the bottom of the sixth.
Derek Holland — recently demoted to the bullpenafter posting a 6.75 ERA as a starter — gave up a two-out, three-run homer to Riley in the seventh to put the game out of reach. In the ninth, for the second time in as many nights, Brandon Belt saw a 400-foot drive die at the wall, as Acuña stole a sure extra-base hit from him once again with a leaping grab.
San Franciso, which has gotten plenty of ninth-inning heroics as of late, did dial up a pair of singles with two outs in the bottom of the ninth — an infield knock by Stephen Vogt and a rocket up the middle by Kevin Pillar — but it was too little, too late, as Brandon Crawford struck out to strand them both.