ORACLE PARK — It took a blustery day game for David Dahl’s third-inning grand slam to sneak over the left-center field wall at Oracle Park, but whether it had gone off the top of the wall or landed — as it did — in the first row, Dahl’s drive would have been just the latest chapter in what’s been a frustrating season for Giants starter Jeff Samardzija.
In six of his 16 starts — including Wednesday’s 6-3 loss to Dahl’s Colorado Rockies — Samardzija has given up three or more runs in a single inning. Twenty-four of the 49 total runs he’d allowed entering Wednesday had come in those single chunk innings.
Against Colorado, Samardzija continued a pattern he’s forged all year — stretches of dominance punctuated by big offensive frames — further depressing his value as an asset at the trade deadline for a team in need of prospects. Despite some offensive fireworks from Pablo Sandoval, whose trade value increases each passing day, the Giants once again couldn’t make recover.
“The big inning, he’s having a hard time staying away from that,” said manager Bruce Bochy. ” … You take away that inning, what’d he give up? Three hits? Those numbers don’t quite match up with the number of hits. He needs to stay away from that crooked number, that big inning. That’s what’s hurt him.”
The Giants scored a pair of runs in the first (their 20th and 21st on the season) thanks to a German Márquez drop on a feed to first and a pair of doubles by Sandoval (a 114-mph rocket, the hardest-hit ball for San Francisco this season) and Alex Dickerson. It was the first time San Francisco had scored more than one first-inning run in a game since June 1 against Baltimore.
That lead, though, quickly disappeared. After retiring the first six men with relative ease, striking out three, Samardzija got a little loose in the top of the third. He went to a full count on four of the first five hitters in the inning, starting with an eight-pitch walk to Tony Wolters. With one out, Samardzija surrendered an infield single to Garrett Hampson, and after a stolen base, worked around Charlie Blackmon to load the bases with one out for Dahl. Samardzija got ahead of Dahl 0-2, but threw three straight balls before serving up a 398-foot grand slam.
“He’s been seeing the ball well at the plate, and I knew we needed to attack him,” Samardzija said. “Just upset to be in that situation, with walking Wolters and getting to a 3-2 count there, especially when we were ahead.”
Sandoval got one run back in the bottom of the frame with a 110.8-mph, 444-foot solo shot to center for his team-lead-tying 10th homer (he finished the day 2-for-4), but the Rockies added another run in the top of the fourth and chased Samardzija after Nolan Arenado reached on an error to lead off the sixth. They tacked on a sixth run on a Dahl RBI single — tying his career high with five RBIs — in the seventh off of Mark Melancon.
Samardzija attributed his struggles in chunk innings to going out of the stretch for the first time after rolling early. Improving his command out of the stretch is something he will work on in the coming days, but for now, the start is yet another in a string of frustrating outings for the Giants and for Samardzija — who allowed two walks and three hits in five innings.
“Frustrating is a great way to put it,” Samardzija said. “I felt good out there, thought I had all my pitches, ball’s coming out well, good slider, just walks. Talked about it before. They always come back to haunt you. Give up a two-run homer and we’re fine there, the game’s still going our way.”
Samardzija — who’s making $18 million this season, and will make another $18 million in 2020 — has thrown five or more innings in 12 of his 16 starts, but he’s rarely gone into the sixth, and into the seventh just once, mainly because of those single innings elevating his pitch count. He threw 34 pitches in the third and 96 on the day, not far off his season average of 17.35 pitches per inning.
If he is to be moved at or near the trade deadline for prospects to continue Farhan Zaidi’s rebuild (and offload his outsized contract), outings like Wednesday’s are going to continue to depress his value, and, combined with his contract, may make him untradeable. An arm like Madison Bumgarner, even in the midst of a career-worst season, would likely command a prospect like the 2018 version of Jesus Luzardo — a top prospect likely about a year away, but nearly ready. For contending teams, a starting pitcher like Samardzija who has give-away innings is a liability, not an asset, and certainly not one for whom they would pay a premium.
Sandoval, though, may be a different story. Slugging a career-high .551 coming into Wednesday, he’s having a resurgent year as a part-time player. He’s responsible for 11 of San Francisco’s 15 balls on the season hit over 110 mph (including his double — the hardest-hit ball by a Giant since 2016), is tied for the team lead in homers and is hitting a team-leading .288. Though his biggest value is inside the San Francisco clubhouse, and though he’s a free agent at the end of the year, he could be worth a prospect or two as a rental bat down the stretch.