AT&T PARK — The San Francisco Giants wanted to be more cautious this time with starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija than they were earlier this season. After Samardzija came back from a spring training pectoral strain a bit too soon, the plan was to move Samardzija along more slowly after he suffered from shoulder stiffness.
In his first rehab start with the Sacramento River Cats on Tuesday, the Giants had wanted to see him throw 90 pitches and get through five or six innings. He gave up six earned runs on seven hits in just four innings of work. That means he’ll have at least one more rehab start before returning to the Giants.
Before Wednesday’s game against the Colorado Rockies, manager Bruce Bochy spoke with Samardzija — who is 1-4 with a 6.56 ERA with San Francisco this season — and he re-join the team on Friday in Arizona. Whether he re-joins a rotation that hasn’t seen a starter give up more than three earned runs in the last 13 games is a question Bochy has been loathe to address.
“Right now, the plan is to give him one more start,” Bochy said. “I’ll confirm that once I see him, once we see him. He feels great. He feels fine, just we have to get him up five or six times, cover ourselves a little bit better than just being sure of this. We want to make sure we have him to a point where we don’t have to be concerned with how many times he gets up.”
A 40-pitch first against the Albuquerque Isotopes ate into Samardzija’s pitch count (he finished with 88), and given how much the Giants have used their bullpen this season, and the fact that, thanks to some door punching, they’re down a bullpen arm, they can’t afford to bring back a starter who’s not ready to pitch into the sixth or seventh.
“He says he feels great, feels like he’s ready,” Bochy said. “You know Jeff. He wants to be here and pitch. They always do. They’d rather be here, but I think we can be a little bit more on the cautious side this time, with the coverage that we have.”
The fact of the matter is that over the last nine starts, Giants pitchers have a sub-2.00 ERA, and they’ve been doing it mostly with youngsters like Chris Stratton, Andrew Suarez and Dereck Rodriguez — all with less than three years of service time — while Derek Holland went 6 2/3 last time out, and has gone deeper into games in each of his last six starts. He’s certainly not going to replace Madison Bumgarner, or Johnny Cueto (who throws again Friday) when they return.
“Hopefully, he’s a bit cleaner next time. We do that so we don’t have to worry about him going out there in the sixth or seventh and having to get him. We need Jeff back. We want him back, believe me. We just want to make sure that these guys are fully ready when they come back, and we don’t have any kind of rush on them.”
With so many options in left field — Austin Slater, Austin Jackson and Hunter Pence and Alen Hanson — Bochy started Pence on Wednesday. Over the last two games he’s played, he’s had a game-winning hit, and sparked a late-inning go-ahead rally.
“They’re tough options, too, and I’ve got to get Jackson out there and Slater, you know, with what he’s been doing,” Bochy said. “With Hunter, giving him another start, he’s got the magic wand going a little bit, too. It’s hard when you’re not giving these guys back-to-back starts or two out of three games to try to get their timing. You try to get them all in there.”
Slater is the Giant’s No. 5 prospect, and Bochy said that getting him consistent at-bats is important.
“It’s nice to have Slate come off the bench, but he’ll get his starts up here,” Bochy said. “We have a lot of baseball left, so we’re trying to get this worked out, and we’ll get to the point where one guy is going to get most of the time. Right now, we’re matching up.”