Sports rivalries are familiar territory for Jeff Samardzija. The right-hander has pitched in Cubs-Cardinals games. He played wide receiver for Notre Dame against USC and Michigan.
Sunday, Samardzija got his first taste of Giants-Dodgers, albeit in a Cactus League game in early spring. And the Giants’ offseason addition introduced himself to one of baseball’s best and oldest rivalries by striking out the side in the first inning, fanning the Dodgers’ Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig in succession.
“It’s a rivalry, for sure,” Samardzija said. “That’s what sports are all about, man. When you get two passionate fan bases and they’re probably yelling at each other more than the players do, that’s a good time. That’s why we play these games, that’s why we do what we do, and if you don’t enjoy those games you need to get your pulse checked.”
The atmosphere of a Giants-Dodgers game hums even at Scottsdale Stadium in March. Samardzija received a loud ovation as he left the mound after striking out Puig on a slider to end the inning. Puig drew choruses of boos prior to his at-bats. There were patches of blue in the crowd of 12,127, some of whom stood and applauded when former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda made his way along the third-base line seats late in the game.
“That’s to be expected,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “This rivalry’s gone on for so many years, no, that’s never going to go away. It creates a lot of interest, even though it’s a spring training game. Fans get into it, probably add a little excitement for the players.”
In fact, for an odd few moments, it seemed the crowd was more serious about the rivalry than the men in the dugouts. Before the first pitch, several Giants coaches and Bochy walked around the backstop to greet new Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, a former Giant, where hugs were exchanged. George Kottaras, a catcher in Giants camp and Roberts’ former teammate, joined in the greeting, as did special instructor and former shortstop Rich Aurilia.
Bochy was asked after the Giants dropped a 5-2 decision if the scene might have looked strange to die-hard fans.
“Yeah, you know, the hugging, I don’t know about that,” Bochy said. “But you know, I talked to Dave a little bit, he played for me. And it is spring training but it’s a matter I think of the first time you see somebody, people want to go over, coaches and whatever, and say hello. But after, that’s pretty much over and it’s time to get down to business.”
Samardzija wasted no time doing so with his breezy first inning. The right-hander threw three innings in his second start of the spring, allowing one run on five hits with five strikeouts. He said he saw progress from his first outing, namely that he was happy enough with his fastball command to start mixing in more secondary pitches.
“It was an aggressive (first) inning there,” Bochy said. “Good three innings of work. He did a nice job, he was crisp with all his pitches. He had good stuff today.”
Slow playing – Through six spring games (including one split-squad day), Giants fans have yet to see Brandon Crawford play shortstop, any of the Giants’ projected starting outfield play the outfield, or Matt Cain and Johnny Cueto throw a pitch.
Bochy addressed the immediate plans for most of those players after Sunday’s game. Angel Pagan is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut on Tuesday. Crawford, who homered in his final at-bat as the Giants’ designated hitter Sunday, will likely see the field on either Wednesday or Thursday, with Hunter Pence probably making his spring debut around the same time.
Denard Span will DH for the Giants on Monday, but his first innings in center field may not come until late next week. Bochy indicated Span’s throwing arm is not at the point where the Giants want him playing the field yet.
“Just trying to get the arm and everything back,” Bochy said. “We’ve got time. He’ll get some at-bats here DHing. He’s out there taking fly balls, getting that work in, just like Angel.”
Cain got his stitches out from his cyst removal over the weekend and played catch out to 90 or 120 feet Sunday, Bochy said. He’ll do that one more time and then “start cranking it up pretty good’ in an effort to be ready for opening day.
Cueto threw a bullpen session Sunday, which Bochy watched part of, and is on track to make his first spring start Wednesday.
“I checked with him,” Bochy said, “and he said, ‘Hey, I’m good to go.’ ”
Good sign – One Giants starter who did play his regular position Sunday was Joe Panik, who continued to show he’s healthy after missing the second half last season with a back injury. Panik dove for a ball at second base – he didn’t stop it, but got up immediately – and made a quick turn on a double-play feed from Kelby Tomlinson with a runner bearing down on him.
“Even the one ball he didn’t quite get to, I think two weeks from now he gets to that one easy,” Bochy said. “It’s only going to get better with him.”
Affiliate update – If you missed it, the Giants and River Cats announced a four-year extension of their partnership Sunday that will run through the 2020 season. A full story, including the significance of that announcement being made now, can be found here.