AT&T PARK — In the third inning of the Giants’ 2-0 loss on Sunday afternoon, Brandon Crawford ranged up the middle, snared a grounder, spun, threw to first and earned himself a free dinner.
Back in spring training, Jeff Samardzija planned to lean heavily on his new air-tight infield and also reward them handsomely.
“I’m a ground-ball pitcher,” Samardzija told the Associated Press during the Cactus League campaign. “I’m going to bang it down in the zone and throw sinkers and sliders and let those guys work for me. I’m going to be buying them a lot of dinners.”
The Gold Glove shortstop has been earning a lot of free grub.
“Crawford makes a play [like that] every day,” Samardzija said. “He’s one of my favorite guys to watch play this game.”
Even though Samardzija was on the wrong end of the Mother’s Day duel with Eddie Butler, the starter has been executing his springtime game plan with aplomb.
The key for Samardzija — who looks nothing like the guy who served up the most earned runs in baseball in 2015 — is that he’s been keeping the ball out of the air like never before. Samardzija is sporting the highest ground ball rate (50.9 percent) of his career and the 11th-best mark in the National League.
Against the Rockies’ supercharged offense, which has scored the third-most runs in the bigs, it was a couple of balls in the air that did in the Shark.
“I love facing these guys,” Samardzija said. “That lineup brings it every time you face them.”
Giants-killer Nolan Arenado stepped to the plate in the first and hammered a RBI-triple off the bottom of the wall in right-center field.
“He’s a tough hitter, man,” Samardzija said of the Rockies third baseman who added a double in the eighth and has eight extra-base hits in seven contests against the Giants dating back to 2015. “Take your pick with what you want to do [against him]. Your best bet is to keep him off balance [and] hopefully keep it off that sweet spot on that barrel.”
Two frames later, Gerardo Parra sliced a bloop single to left, which allowed Carlos Gonzalez to race home as the Rockies doubled their advantage.
While Samardzija dubbed himself a ground-ball pitcher, he’s also proven to be a strikeout machine. The righty has punched out nine batters in each of his past two outings, tying teammate Johnny Cueto for the eighth-most strikeouts (44) in the NL.
“I’m really impressed with him,” manager Bruce Bochy said of his No. 3 starter. “That’s a tough loss for him. He pitched great. He pitched his heart out.”
The Giants bats couldn’t back up Samardzija in the matinee against the Rockies, but there’s no debating that the 31-year-old has been nasty since landing at AT&T Park. The starter owns a 3.17 ERA and has worked into the eighth inning in four of his seven outings.