San Francisco Giants

Samardzija gets competitive in first Cactus League start with Giants

Giants starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija throws against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning of a spring training baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Wednesday.
Giants starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija throws against the Los Angeles Angels during the first inning of a spring training baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Wednesday. The Associated Press

Giants catcher Buster Posey has only a handful of career at-bats against Jeff Samardzija, but he’d seen enough before the Giants acquired the right-hander this offseason to form an impression.

“I always admired his competitive nature,” Posey said. “We’re all competitive at this level, but you can tell certain guys might be just a tick above the rest.”

Posey caught Samardzija in a game setting for the first time Wednesday afternoon in the Giants’ Cactus League opener. And even in two innings of his first spring training outing, Samardzija put that competitive nature into practice.

After pitching a scoreless first inning against the Los Angeles Angels, Samardzija gave up a leadoff double to Carlos Perez in the second. Rather than treat the rest of the inning as an early spring tuneup, Samardzija said he decided to approach the Angels’ hitters as if trying to protect a late-inning lead or tie in the regular season. He issued two one-out walks to load the bases, but limited the damage to a sacrifice fly.

“That’s what’s expected here,” said Samardzija, who signed a five-year, $90 million deal in December. “When you’re in an organization like this, there’s no going through the motions. I learned pretty quickly that when you’re here, you’re here for a reason. It’s not just to do busy work. You’re here to get better.”

Samardzija threw 32 pitches, 10 in the first inning in which he allowed a two-out single to Ji-Man Choi but got C.J. Cron to line out to second baseman Joe Panik. He got an assist in the second from shortstop Kelby Tomlinson, who made a neat charging play on Johnny Giavotella’s slow chopper for the final out of the inning.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Samardzija said of Tomlinson’s play. “I love to see guys out there playing like that.”

His line aside, Samardzija said it was “great” to work with Posey, who requested to catch Wednesday so the two could continue building a rapport. Samardzija said he plans to defer to Posey at times this season when facing unfamiliar teams, having spent last season in the American League. Overall, Samardzija said he has always been taught to “stick with your strengths,” which in his case means attacking hitters with fastballs.

Posey said that at this point in spring he’s mainly looking for pitchers to have “life” on their fastballs, and while catching Samardzija on Wednesday he was pleasantly surprised.

“It felt like it was getting on me quick today,” Posey said. “He’s got the ability to throw a four-seamer that rises through the zone, and then he’s got some heavy sink as well. I think he’s got a lot of different ways to get guys out.”

Blackburn and blue – Right-hander Clayton Blackburn had an up-and-down outing Wednesday. He was selected to come in after Samardzija, a sign that the Giants want to take a good look at him this spring. Then in the course of recording five outs, Blackburn was struck in the legs twice by comebackers.

“I think I’ve gotten hit once in my entire life,” Blackburn said. “After two in two innings, I was like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ 

Manager Bruce Bochy pulled Blackburn after the second comebacker with two outs in the inning. But he later praised the 23-year-old, who went 10-4 with a 2.85 ERA last year with the Triple-A River Cats.

“He threw the ball well,” Bochy said. “He could’ve got out of that.”

In no rush – The Giants’ lineup Wednesday had only three regulars, and Bochy said afterward he intends to ease his projected starters into games this spring.

Brandon Crawford likely will not play shortstop until early next week, and left fielder Angel Pagan is tentatively scheduled to debut March 8.

Crawford has dealt with soreness in his throwing shoulder in previous springs, but Bochy said the Giants are simply “taking care of his arm. It’s not hurting.” Denard Span will make his Giants debut at designated hitter Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers, Bochy said.