San Francisco Giants

Another strong outing by Samardzija gives A’s bullpen a much-needed rest

Right-hander Jeff Samardzija was watching TV in his hotel room after the A’s beat the Houston Astros late Wednesday night when he happened to catch a replay of Bob Melvin’s post-game interview, in which the manager was asked about the state of his bullpen for Thursday’s series finale.

Melvin had just used five relievers to close out a game the A’s had led by seven runs, one night after a 12-inning loss. So Melvin shrugged and said, “We’ll see,” before adding, “Samardzija” – the point being that a lengthy outing from his next day’s starter would be helpful.

“I was like, all right, better get to bed and get ready,” Samardzija said. “It was pretty cool to hear that. I love when people put some pressure on you and expect a lot out of you.”

Melvin acknowledged that the A’s couldn’t have expected much more out of Samardzija, who allowed one run on five hits in eight innings Thursday as the A’s beat Houston 13-1. It gave the A’s a series win after dropping the opener and allowed Melvin to rest his weary relief corps – aside from one inning from just-recalled Evan Scribner – ahead of a six-game trip beginning today at Texas.

The Astros’ lone run off Samardzija came when Chris Carter lined a first-pitch fastball just fair down the left-field line in the fourth inning for his 20th home run of the season. Otherwise, Samardzija allowed four singles while striking out six, including Robbie Grossman for the last out of the eighth on a 96-mph fastball, his 101st and final pitch.

“He didn’t really argue too much about (going back out for) the ninth,” Melvin said. “I think if it was a little bit closer, he would’ve wanted to go out there and completely save the bullpen. But he knew what was expected of him and did exactly that.”

Since being acquired from the Cubs, Samardzija has pitched seven or more innings in each of his four starts, a first for the franchise since 1943, according to the A’s. Samardzija said he felt freer to attack the strike zone as the A’s built a three-run lead after four innings, then began the rout with a five-run sixth in which Brandon Moss’ third grand slam of the season was the key blow.

Such offensive backing is somewhat new to Samardzija this season. In his last six starts for the Cubs, they scored 13 runs – total. On Thursday, the A’s equaled their season high in runs while getting 14 hits, including three from shortstop Jed Lowrie, who has had an offensive resurgence the past three weeks.

Over his last 15 games, Lowrie has hit .379 (22-for-58) with eight multi-hit games while raising his average nearly 30 points to .243. Lowrie has insisted, though, that he doesn’t feel he’s seeing pitches better, nor has he made significant changes to his hitting routine since a 51-game stretch (April 26-June 25) in which he hit just .180.

“I honestly feel like nothing has changed; it’s just finding some holes,” Lowrie said. “It’s cliche to say just stick to your process and trust that it’ll work out in the end, but when I was hitting the ball like I was, there was really nothing else I could do.”

According to the website FanGraphs, Lowrie hit 27.8 percent of his batted balls for line drives in June, his highest rate of any month this season. Yet he batted just .185 that month with five extra-base hits. Entering Thursday, his line-drive rate in July was at 21.3 percent, but he was hitting .309.

Lowrie’s first hit Thursday was a slow roller down the third-base line that he beat for an infield single. In the sixth, he lined a two-out RBI single through the right side of the infield. One likely reason for the numbers jump: Lowrie’s batting average on balls in play entering the day was .333, compared to just .225 in June, indicating he did experience a run of bad luck in the first half.

Lowrie said he was “definitely frustrated” during his slump but resisted the urge to make major changes.

“I can’t tell it where to go once I hit it,” he said. “If I hit it hard and they’re playing right there, or it goes right at a guy, that’s completely out of my control. You’ve got to be willing to roll with the punches.”