The Giants found their rotation finally compete with Jeff Samardzija clicking into place as the final piece to the puzzle Saturday afternoon after missing over two months of the season. And for a homecoming that involved shaking off some rust, he performed pretty well allowing three runs on seven hits over five innings.
But St. Louis righty Carlos Martínez (W, 6-4, 3.05 ERA) had the benefit of being rust-free, and he kept San Francisco bats silenced — a familiar theme as of late — for seven innings, allowing just one run on six hits. Despite a last gasp from the Giants (46-45) in the eighth, in which flame-thrower Jordan Hicks allowed one more run, the Cardinals (46-42) took the penultimate game in the series, 3-2.
Samardzija (L, 1-5, 6.42 ERA) looked like vintage “Shark” as he breezed through the first two innings effortlessly on 23 pitches with back-to-back three-up, three-down innings, even hitting 93 on the gun. But things got a little rough after that.
Kolten Wong led off the third inning with a single and then stole second. The inning culminated when Martínez, who came into the game batting .231, knocked a double to left for his fourth RBI of the year, getting the Cardinals on the board, 1-0.
Samardzija struck the next two batters out, but not before Cardinals centerfielder Tommy Pham suffered what looked like a rather uncomfortable injury. Pham fouled the first pitch he saw off of his protective cup, but after a brief interlude, during which Pham caught his breath, Samardzija earned the third strikeout of the game with strike three clocking in at 95.5-mph.
The fourth and fifth innings were also taxing.
Samardzija allowed two more runs on four singles and a sacrifice fly to give the Cardinals a 3-0 lead in the fourth. And he narrowly escaped the Cards putting up an even more crooked number in the fifth with runners at the corners and two outs when Paul DeJong launched a rocket that looked like it was on its way out of the park. Samardzija and 39,606 fans at the yard were glad to discover it nestled comfortably in Gorkys Hernández‘s glove at the warning track, instead.
But overall it was the bats that failed Samardzija and not the other way around and manager Bruce Bochy was pleased with the big righty’s first start back:
“His stuff was there. … He bumped 96, I thought he had good secondary pitches [that] he was throwing for strikes [and he] looked more like the Jeff we know. It should only get better.”
Samardzija felt good about his performance as well:
“[My] timing’s coming along nice, arm strength feels good. I wasn’t really looking too close to [velocity]. I knew it was coming out good from warmups, the ball was doing what we wanted it to do, [and] to me that’s the most important. The more times I go out and throw 90 or 100 pitches and get that strength up [the velocity] will be able to climb, too.”
One thing that has to be encouraging to the Giants is the fact that Samardzija maintained command and velocity throughout the outing, walking only one and throwing with a velocity as high as 94.1-mph as late as the 79th of his 81 pitches for the day.
After Samardzija’s first injury, a right pectoral strain out of Spring Training, there was a rush put on his rehab, and the results were not good. In eight starts after his first return April 20, he owned a 1-4 record with a 6.56 ERA.
But Samardzija said Saturday’s outing felt much different from the last time around:
“That first time we thought we could kinda come back and throw through it and the arm strength would increase and then we’d feel a lot better after that, but sometimes you can try to will yourself through some things that aren’t there. So this time, all of [the starts] coming back from rehab in Triple-A ’til today have all been free and easy. The mistakes [I have made] aren’t because of the arm they’re just because of the execution of the pitch, and that’s always a good thing.”
The bullpen took over from the sixth inning on and put up yet another admirable, leak-proof performance with scoreless innings from Derek Holland, Sam Dyson, Cory Gearrin and Mark Melancon. Gearrin had an especially strong outing, whiffing the first two batters he saw on just 7 pitches before inducing a fly out from Dexter Fowler.
But it didn’t matter because the Giants offense continued to scuffle. San Francisco didn’t even get on the board until the sixth on a two-out RBI double from Brandon Belt, after Hernández led off the inning with a single off of Martínez. And the second run they scraped across in the eighth off Hicks.
At the century mark with his pitch count Cardinals manager Mike Matheny replaced Martínez after the seventh inning with the rookie sinker-baller, Hicks (H, 12, 2.56 ERA), who topped out at 102.7-mph in the Saturday afternoon contest.
Bochy expressed awe at Hicks’ performance:
“That’s pretty impressive isn’t it? You see [Aroldis] Chapman, but it looks like he’s taking it up just a notch. That’s a big arm there, that’s gotta be the biggest arm in baseball we just saw.”
After inducing a harmless groundout from Hernández, Alen Hanson hit a soft grounder to second that, with his wheels, he was able to beat out for a single. A wild pitch with Andrew McCutchen at the plate allowed him to take second and Belt racked up his second RBI of the day by shooting a 100.4-mph sinker into center field to score Hanson.
Belt described what he saw from Hicks and what his approach was:
“It moves quite a bit [and] its hard to not offer at something that’s going 104-miles-an-hour that’s starts in the strike zone but ends up out of it but you gotta do the best you can. I think mentally you just have to tell yourself not to speed up too much because that’s kind of your automatic reaction when you see somebody like that. You just have to kind of calm yourself down and make sure you see the ball just like any other at-bat.”
Despite getting within a run St. Louis shut the Giants down one last time in the ninth with closer Bud Norris (S, 17, 2.87 ERA) at the helm.
Of the team’s slumping bats Bochy said:
“We just gotta get these bats going. We’ve got some guys that aren’t in the zone right now, so to speak. We’ll come out of this, you guys have seen how we can put runs on the board, but you go through these stages and right now we’re going through one.”
The Giants have yet to announce the results of an MRI performed Saturday to diagnose the severity of a strained left groin Joe Panik sustained in the fourth inning of Friday’s game, but he was placed on the 10-day disabled list before the game.