San Francisco Giants

Big numbers in spring don’t concern Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzija

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija watches the game from the bench in the top of the third inning in the second inning during the Cactus League Spring Training game against the Seattle Mariners at Peoria Stadium in Peoria, Ariz., on March 16, 2016.
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija watches the game from the bench in the top of the third inning in the second inning during the Cactus League Spring Training game against the Seattle Mariners at Peoria Stadium in Peoria, Ariz., on March 16, 2016. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Jeff Samardzija had just been shelled for seven runs by the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, but you wouldn’t know it by the smiling and joking right-hander the Giants are counting on in 2016.

“I’m pretty happy with where the ball was going,” said Samardzija of his command in a 9-6 Giants loss. While speaking, the 6-foot-5 pitcher occasionally adjusted his long, flowing hair and deflected any questions focusing on the negatives of his spring so far.

Samardzija has an 8.31 ERA in four Cactus League starts. The man the Giants will pay $90 million over five seasons has given up 12 runs in 13 innings.

On Wednesday, Samardzija gave up eight hits, seven earned runs and three home runs. He was hoping to pitch five innings against the Mariners but lasted only four.

A cause for concern?

“Here in Arizona, that doesn’t bother me too much. You’re just trying to get your work in,” said Samardzija, who was also hit hard as a Chicago White Sox starter last season and yet commanded huge money because he eats innings and the Giants need that from multiple starters this season.

Still in the getting-to-know-you phase with a pitcher who had mixed success in a 2014 stint with the A’s, first impressions of Samardzija can go something like this: He’s very approachable, not big on introspection, believes what he believes and questions won’t shake him off what he believes.

Still in the getting-to-know-you phase with a pitcher who had mixed success in a 2014 stint with the A’s, first impressions of Samardzija can go something like this: He’s very approachable, not big on introspection, believes what he believes and questions won’t shake him off what he believes.

His catcher, Giants icon Buster Posey, said Samardzija’s pitches flattened out in the third and fourth innings. After being down in the strike zone, Samardzija’s pitches were up. Leonys Martin, batting ninth for Seattle, launched a three-run homer off Samardzija in the third inning. Luis Sardinas, Seattle’s third baseman, followed soon with a two-run homer. And in the fourth, Seattle shortstop Shawn O’Malley hit a solo home run.

All are left-handed hitters. Robinson Cano, Seattle’s best-known player and also a left-hander, crushed a triple to center field.

Cano’s shot was also consequential to the game and to the Giants’ plans for this season, but more on that in a moment.

First, no one with the Giants seems concerned about Samardzija’s spring so far. A 31-year-old former wide receiver during his college days at Notre Dame, Samardzija told reporters that he has hit two spring home runs. Some of the balls that flew onto the right-field berm here might have died at AT&T Park in the damp gusts that come off of McCovey Cove.

Samardzija’s first two innings were the best he has posted this spring. In that stretch, Samardzija faced six hitters and retired them all, looking powerful in striking out three of them.

He had batters waving at or swinging through his pitches. At 6-5, he’s a physical presence on the mound for a team that needs one besides Madison Bumgarner.

Through two and a half innings, the Giants had a five-run lead on a significant day for their 2016 preparation.

For the first time all spring, the Giants trotted out what they expect to be their Opening Day outfield: Hunter Pence in right, Denard Span in center and Angel Pagan in left. It was also the spring debut for Giants reliever Sergio Romo.

Samardzija said he was happy to see a team resembling one he hopes to see on a daily basis in 2016.

“It’s nice on that mound to look out there and see your guys,” Samardzija said. “I’m really starting to get that feel for what it’s going to look like.”

Last season, Samardzija was 11-13 with the White Sox, giving up more hits and earned runs than any pitcher in the American League. He also tied for the league lead in home runs allowed.

The Giants believe much of that had to do with pitching in a hitters’ park with a team not as defensively strong as the Giants. That’s the analysis, anyway.

This season, the outfield support Samardzija and other Giants starters get will be one of the more interesting issues to follow with this team.

This season, the outfield support Samardzija and other Giants starters get will be one of the more interesting issues to follow with this team. Span is 32. Pence will be 33 in April. Pagan will be 35 in July. Span is coming off an injury-plagued season in Washington where he was limited to playing in 61 games. He’s trying to come back while the Giants monitor him closely.

Coming into Wednesday’s game, Span’s left shoulder – his throwing arm – was sore. Now back to Cano’s triple in the fateful third inning. Samardzija was getting hit hard when Cano laced a fly ball that Span looked good to catch. But it clanked off his glove for extra bases and, even worse, Span landed hard on his right shoulder.

“I can’t catch a break,” Span said of now having two sore shoulders. “I should have caught it.” He said he wasn’t at game speed yet and didn’t react quickly enough.

The Giants will only play Span if his shoulders respond well to treatment. Both Pence and Pagan spent significant time injured last season, especially Pence. The hope is that Span’s day is not an omen.

The hope is that this was just a day in Arizona for a veteran team a little more than two weeks from starting a campaign full of hope to repeat past championship glory.

There were hints of that Wednesday: Samardzija’s first two innings, Pagan’s three-RBI day and a three-RBI day for Trevor Brown, an impressive catching prospect who has crushed the ball all spring.

But there was also Samardzija’s third and fourth innings and Span’s painful tumble to the grass. Who knows what lies ahead, but it promises to be fascinating.

Marcos Breton: 916-321-1096, mbreton@sacbee.com, @MarcosBreton

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