Nats chase Samardzija, dump Giant bullpen in series finale

The Giants entered Wednesday with a chance to sweep their first series of 2018 and reach .500 for the first time since April 12. Instead, they’ll limp into an off-day two games under smarting from a 15-2 thumping.

The Nationals (11-14) were a consensus pick to win the National League East for the fifth time in seven years. In spite of the soothsayers, they came into San Francisco with three lineup regulars — Adam Eaton, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy — on the disabled list. They had been outscored 25-18 en route to losing five of six. Two of those losses came at the hands of the Giants (11-13) Monday and Tuesday.

This story will be updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

One way to bust a slump is to start the reigning NL Cy Young winner on the mound. Washington did that, sending out Max Scherzer (W, 5-1, 1.62 ERA) who handcuffed the Giants over seven innings Wednesday afternoon. San Francisco struck out 11 times, 10 against Scherzer, the 12th game in which they’ve racked up double-digit strikeouts. Manager Bruce Bochy acknowledged how well Scherzer pitched and improved as the game went on:

“Early, we were having some pretty good at-bats but his stuff picked up … He started hitting his spots better and the overall stuff, I thought, got better. It’s just a tough game.”

The Nationals put Giant starter Jeff Samardzija (L, 1-1, 6.23 ERA) in the stretch almost immediately in his first start of the year at AT&T Park. Nat two-hole hitter Wilmer Difo singled on a ball that caromed off Samardzija’s foot on the fifth pitch of the game. Difo advanced to second on a passed ball and then to third tagging up on Bryce Harper‘s flyout to center. A Matt Adams single scored Difo, giving the Nationals a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Samardzija’s fastball sat in the high-80s and low-90s for most of the game, a decline from the normal low- to mid-90s velocity he showed in Anaheim and alarming enough that it brought Bochy and the trainer out to the mound to check on him. The skipper confirmed after the game that Samardzija is fine:

“We just wanted to check on him at that point. He said he was fine and, as you saw, his stuff picked up. Which you see sometimes with starting pitchers, you know, they’re trying to get settled in.”

In addition to the lack of zip, Samardzija’s command was spotty at best.

The right-hander left numerous curves and splitters up in the zone and threw just 51 of his 86 pitches for strikes, less than 60 percent. Samardzija attributed the issues with his stuff to it being “just one of those days:”

“Just took a little longer there today. There’s really no explanation for it sometimes. Going out there and trying to do our work and sometimes there’s other plans.”

Washington scored two more in the first on a double by Andrew Stevenson, owner of what had been a .161 career batting average in the majors. Stevenson entered the game with just 10 career hits in 72 plate appearances and enjoyed a 4-for-5 game with two doubles, a walk and four runs driven in.

Samardzija worked through traffic in the second and third innings and escaped unscathed but ran his pitch count up quickly. The Giants scratched a run across in the second on a pair of doubles from Brandon Crawford and Nick Hundley, showing some fight against the Nationals’ ace and pulling them within two runs. A bloop and a blast wouldn’t be a surprise from a Giants team that had hit nine blasts in the past five games.

Samardzija nearly made it through four innings allowing only the three runs from the first inning. That would have been considered a moral victory but, with two outs, he served up a fastball on a tee for Adams, who launched a three-run homer (3) into the arcade to stretch the lead to 6-1. Adams’ dinger ended Samardzija’s day at 3-2/3 innings, having allowed six runs on eight hits and three walks.

After Samardzija departed, the Giants’ bullpen allowed Washington to blow the game wide open. Pierce Johnson, Josh Osich, Cory Gearrin and Roberto Gomez allowed nine runs combined in the final 5-1/3. Bochy discussed the issues Osich and Gearrin have gone through as of late:

“They’re not on track. [Osich] really had some good moments today, a lot of swing-and-misses. Probably didn’t get the ball where he wanted at times. With Cory, I think he’s battling things a little too much right now. … This game’s all about confidence. They get shaken a little bit, they don’t throw the ball with as much conviction. That’s what we need to get back with both of them.”

In total, the Giants allowed 14 of 15 runs with two outs, 18 hits, six walks and a hit batsman. Samardzija called it frustrating to allow that many runs within an out of escaping an inning:

“You want to get that good rhythm going, up and down. If they get a hit in there, double play, things like that. You got to put good lineups like that away when you have the chance. You can see once they started getting runners on [base] and stuff, they started feeling more confident. Any time a lineup gets a guy in the stretch early and often they’re going to have a good day.”

Up Next

Following an off-day, the Giants play four games in three days against the Dodgers beginning Friday at 7:15 p.m. Hyun-Jin Ryu (3-0, 1.99 ERA) and Derek Holland (0-3, 4.98 ERA) are the probable starters for Friday’s game one.

Notes

With four runs in 1-2/3 innings Wednesday, Josh Osich has allowed nine in 10 innings this season. Lefty reliever Will Smith is expected to return from the disabled list next week, and Osich would seem to be the odd man out given the way he’s pitched. … Cory Gearrin has allowed five runs in the last three innings he’s pitched, giving up six hits and five walks. … Bochy mentioned before the game that he felt Brandon Crawford had been pressing a bit and trying to pull the ball too much. Crawford’s second inning double was a line drive over the left fielder Stevenson’s head that bounced into the seats and his 1-for-4 day raised his average to an even .200. … Bochy scratched Mac Williamson from the lineup shortly before the game due to some neck stiffness after his diving attempt Tuesday night. Williamson should be ready to play Friday. … Chris Stratton was placed on paternity leave as his wife is expecting their second child, Roberto Gomez was recalled to fill his spot on the roster.