SAN FRANCISCO -- Within the first two innings of an 8-1 win over the Miami Marlins on Friday night, Giants manager Bruce Bochy twice encountered the danger of batting his pitcher eighth.
In the first inning, Jeff Samardzija came up with runners on first and third and two outs and grounded out. In the third, the Marlins intentionally walked Brandon Crawford with one out to load the bases for Samardzija, who hit a tapper that resulted in a force-out at home. Angel Pagan then lined out, and the Giants got nothing out of their budding rally.
"There are going to be games where it’s going to be frustrating," Bochy said of having a pitcher in the No. 8 spot. "And it could’ve been one of those."
Instead, the narrative pivoted. In the fifth inning, the Marlins again walked Crawford to bring up Samardzija with the bases loaded. This time, Samardzija lined a single to right field to drive in a run. And an inning later, Samardzija roped a two-run double down the left-field line, making it a career offensive game on the night he also introduced himself to the AT&T Park crowd with 7 2/3 strong innings on the mound and helped the Giants snap a five-game losing streak.
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"It feels good," Samardzija said after his first home start. "It’s a very educated fan base with high standards, so you want to live up to those standards. You come play in a park like this with the history they have here, as a new guy you want to prove your worth and prove that you belong on this team. And hopefully they saw some things that they liked."
The Giants saw an outing that epitomized why they signed Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million contract over the offseason. The right-hander threw 117 pitches without issuing a walk for the first time in his career, scattered six hits and was still hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun in the late innings. He now owns the two longest starts by a Giants pitcher this season, along with an eight-inning start April 12 in Colorado.
"He’s a strong kid," Bochy said. "He’s a guy you can ride. I could’ve let him go (in the eighth), but with that lead I wanted to at least give him a little break there."
Samardzija helped build that lead himself and saved Bochy a night spent regretting his lineup. Before this season, Bochy was adamantly against hitting his pitcher eighth, one reason being that it could lead to one of his better hitters in the seventh spot getting pitched around in big situations, as Crawford was Friday.
"You’ve got to feel for Craw, he gets walked twice there," Bochy said. "You know you can sometimes take the bat out of his hands. But it worked out twice tonight."
Samardzija equaled his career high for RBIs for an entire season in one night, collecting two hits in a game for just the second time in his career. First baseman Brandon Belt said afterward that he has watched Samardzija take batting practice and that, "He might rival (Madison Bumgarner) when it comes to power."
"I consider myself a great 5 o’clock hitter," Samardzija said, grinning. "Come 7 o’clock, that ball’s 94, 95 (mph), it’s a little tougher. I’m just going to go up, keep swinging and see what happens."
Overall, the Giants’ offense had five hits with runners in scoring position after going 3-for-35 over their previous five games combined. The regular hitters gave Samardzija a three-run cushion in the first inning. Six different Giants had two hits, and everybody in the starting lineup except Matt Duffy had at least one.
"I say so many times, you get in a skid and it gets contagious," Bochy said. "The hits got contagious tonight."
With Samardzija’s three RBIs tonight, the Giants now have more RBIs (13) from the No. 8 hitter than any other spot in their lineup this season -- even with the pitcher hitting there in 14 of 18 games. Seven of those RBIs belong to backup catcher Trevor Brown, but five go to Samardzija, Bumgarner and Jake Peavy, with Ehire Adrianza driving in the other.
With Duffy back hitting third Friday, Bochy stayed with the pitcher-eighth strategy even with Buster Posey hitting cleanup -- a rarity so far. Still, Bochy isn’t a total convert. Jake Peavy, he said, will bat ninth Saturday evening.
"I was pretty locked in with it early in the season," Bochy said. "Now I’m going to pick my spots a little more than having it set in stone."