San Francisco Giants

Samardzija relishing playoff hunt with A’s

OAKLAND -- A’s right-hander Jeff Samardzija grinned when asked how he’s feeling in this, the final week of the regular season.

"I feel like I have 210 innings, that’s for sure," Samardzija said. "But that don’t mean nothing at this point in time."

Actually, after his seven innings in the A’s 8-4 win over the Angels on Monday night, the right-hander is at 212 2/3 for the year. But Samardzija, for the first time in a long time, is also involved in a playoff race. And right now he’s pitching as well as he has at any point this season -- at just the right time for the A’s.

Samardzija allowed one run in seven innings Monday. It was unearned, and the only run he has given up in his last three starts. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in 23 innings and the A’s finally got him some support Monday, as he won for the first time since Aug. 25.

"This last month’s been fun for me," Samardzija said. "It’s a new situation for me (being in a playoff race), and something I’ve been asking for for a long time.

"I want to take advantage of it. These opportunities aren’t guaranteed, and they don’t come around too often. So you don’t want to waste them."

While many members of the A’s clubhouse were there for Oakland winning the division the last two seasons, Samardzija hasn’t experienced the postseason since he was a rookie reliever for the Chicago Cubs in 2008. The chance to get back seems to be fueling the already-fiery 29-year-old, whom manager Bob Melvin remarked has appeared even more emotional on the mound than normal.

"You get that kind of lift playing behind him knowing he’s so into it," Melvin said.

Lately, though, that hadn’t parlayed itself into support for Samardzija on the scoreboard. Samardzija in his last two outings threw seven scoreless innings in Chicago on Sept. 10 and eight scoreless against the Rangers last Wednesday, and received no-decisions both times. In fact, Samardzija has made five starts this year with the A’s and Cubs in which he didn’t allow a run -- and received no-decisions in all of them.

Monday night, he allowed a run within the first two batters, as Kole Calhoun doubled to lead off the game and took third when Jonny Gomes bobbled the ball, and Mike Trout followed with a sacrifice fly. But the A’s responded with a six-run first inning against a wild C.J. Wilson, and that was more than enough support for Samardzija, who allowed only one more runner past second base.

"When we put the second (run) up I was happy," Samardzija said. "I felt like the way I’ve been throwing, that was going to be enough.

"(But) anytime they want to go out and get me eight," he added, "I’ll accept it."

While the A’s as a team have been struggling in the last month, Samardzija has a 1.40 ERA in his last six starts. Beyond that, Melvin said, is the impact he has as one of the newcomers to the clubhouse who are "really relishing the fact we’re in a position to hopefully make the playoffs.

"It’s nice to have those guys that are so hungry for it, and he shows it every time out," Melvin said.

Melvin said he intended to send Samardzija back out for the eighth Monday night until the A’s padded their lead in the bottom of the seventh. At that point, Melvin decided it was better to save some of Samardzija’s pitches -- not that the right-hander would have minded returning.

"It doesn’t matter how you feel (right now), doesn’t matter what your mental state is," Samardzija said. "You owe it more to your teammates than to yourself to come out and do your job and do it to the best of your ability. So I feel great."

* The game story gets into the A’s big first inning, which they compiled on four walks, two hits and a David Freese throwing error that allowed two runs to score. Wilson was erratic from the start, throwing 12 of his 35 pitches for strikes while facing eight hitters. Geovany Soto’s two-run single with the bases loaded knocked Wilson out of the game, after Wilson had already walked in two runs.

"That’s been something we do pretty well in the past, so it was good to see us take the walks, not try to be too aggressive, which maybe we’ve been a little too much recently," Melvin said.

Soto’s single, meanwhile, was the A’s first hit since Sept. 9 with the bases loaded. They had gone 18 consecutive plate appearances without a hit in those situations, though they did have four walks and two sacrifice flies in that stretch.

"You can walk all you want and get a run here, a run there," Melvin said. "But (Soto’s) the guy that really came up with the big hit in the inning."

Soto worked the count to 3-1 and took a strike before shooting Wilson’s full count pitch back up the middle for a two-run single. Soto said he was "just trying to get a good pitch to hit, and he threw it right over the fat of the plate, and I just put good wood on it."

Soto, who also drove in three runs in the A’s win Sunday, has provided a lift the past few days with Derek Norris limited by chin and shoulder soreness. Melvin said Soto behind the plate has been "real energetic, blocking balls -- good to see."

* The defensive standout for the A’s on Monday, though, was Josh Donaldson. He made several acrobatic stops at third base, including a play on Chris Iannetta’s sharp grounder in the seventh where he tried to backhand the ball, had it ricochet upward, grabbed it out of the air with his bare hand and fired to first to beat Iannetta easily.

"I think he was bored and wanted to make things a little interesting," Samardzija joked. "I saw it took a little tough hop on him. I thought it was going to be a little closer than it was, but he stayed with it and made the play."

Samardzija has previously said he wants Donaldson at third base for all his starts, and had more glowing words for Donaldson on Monday. "I don’t know if he really knows how good he can be over there, and what his ceiling is as a baseball player," Samardzija said. "It doesn’t just stop at defense. As a hitter, as the leader on the team that he’s going to become the more time he gets in the big leagues, his ceiling is tremendously high."

* The A’s second consecutive eight-run output -- a veritable explosion, as they’d scored a total of 19 runs in their 10 games prior to Sunday -- allowed Melvin to take it easy on his bullpen. Evan Scribner pitched the eighth, allowing a three-run homer to Albert Pujols, and Luke Gregerson came in for the ninth, giving up two hits but inducing a game-ending double play from Gordon Beckham.

Specifically, Melvin said he was glad not to use closer Sean Doolittle, who pitched two innings in Sunday’s win. Had Beckham reached, it would have become a save situation for the A’s, but Gregerson prevented Melvin from having to decide whether or not to get Doolittle up.

* The A’s have had bright spots over the past six weeks, but as Melvin has said often, the problem has been stringing them together for a confidence-building run. This win coming on the heels of Donaldson’s walk-off homer Sunday, Melvin said, is "hopefully a good sign of things to come."

It did, at least, allow the A’s to strengthen their position in the wild-card race. They still have a one-game lead over Kansas City for the top spot, but are now 2 ½ games up on Seattle, which lost in Toronto on Monday. Their magic number to clinch at least a berth in the wild-card game is four.

An optimistic Samardzija said after the game that while "we’ve been through a lot these last two months, it’s good to see everything coming together and everyone clicking. … That’s what you want, and I think we’re doing it at the right time."

Six games remain to determine whether he’s right. The series resumes tomorrow night with A’s right-hander Sonny Gray (13-9, 3.28) opposing Angels lefty Wade LeBlanc (0-1, 5.24). First pitch at 7:05 p.m.

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