Jeff Samardzija’s first half has really been more like two halves.
The Giants right-hander at times was dominant, unleashing high-90s fastballs and bulling his way late into games. Recently, he’d been leaving too many of those pitches in hittable spots, his messy numbers reflecting the price.
Friday night, in his final start before the All-Star break, Samardzija was a little of both. He labored through the first two innings while putting the Giants in a two-run hole. After that he was nearly unhittable, pitching into the seventh inning in the Giants’ 6-2 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Samardzija threw 110 pitches before departing with two on and one out in the seventh. Derek Law came in to retire the next two hitters and help preserve Samardzija’s ninth win – his most in a season before the All-Star break. Samardzija ends the first half with a 3.91 ERA, while the Giants went 11-7 in his 18 starts.
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“I think overall he’s done a real nice job,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s done what we were hoping. He’s won games for us. He’s eaten a lot of innings. He threw 100-plus pitches and ends up in the seventh inning there, and he’s been fairly consistent with that.”
“He’s had a couple hiccups, but overall you look at the body of work, it’s been pretty good, what we were looking for. He’s thrown some beautiful games.”
After allowing six of his first 10 hitters to reach base Friday, Samardzija retired the next 10 in a row and allowed just one hit after the second inning – a single to Rickie Weeks on his final pitch of the game. It was an encouraging way to enter the break for the right-hander, who had struggled since the beginning of June.
In his first 10 starts this season, Samardzija went 7-2 with a 2.53 ERA and looked every bit the co-ace with Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. In his previous seven starts before Friday, though, Samardzija had compiled a 6.53 ERA, his 10 home runs allowed over that stretch recalling last season when he led the American League with 29.
Jean Segura hit Samardzija’s first pitch on Friday night for a loud home run to left field. It was the type of pitch that has hurt Samardzija this season, a 92 MPH fastball that catcher Buster Posey had set up for on the outside part of the plate but that ran back over the inner half, elevated.
Samardzija threw 30 more pitches in the inning, allowing another run on a two-out single by Yasmany Tomas, and 19 more in the second inning. One of those struck Segura on the elbow, and while Samardzija had been wild to that point, the Diamondbacks seemed to take offense.
In the bottom of the inning, Arizona starter Patrick Corbin appeared to throw two pitches intentionally at Posey, the second of which went behind Posey and caused home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott to warn both benches. Bochy hurried out to argue and quickly earned his first ejection of the season.
“I understand Segura’s been hit, I guess, a few times (this season),” Bochy said. “(But) we’re in the business to win games here. We’re down two runs, a man on first. I understand they’re not happy their guy can’t hit. But I can’t have Buster being a target.
“They threw once at him, throw another one up high at his back. I mean, that’s enough. I’d had enough of it. That’s when guys get hurt. I mean, come on. I don’t know who called it, but it’s about playing the game. And guys get upset when guys get hit, I get it. But I can’t have him up there, a pitcher just keep firing at him.”
Bochy indicated he thought that Corbin, who threw ball one before a pitch close to Posey’s knees and another behind his back, should have been ejected immediately.
“I mean, that’s the rule if you think they’re throwing at him,” Bochy said. “I mean, after one – the whole sequence, it was a soft pitch and then they took their shot. But you can’t keep throwing at a guy. That’s when somebody gets hurt.”
The moment would change the tenor of the game. Corbin went on to walk Posey. And Brandon Crawford promptly made the Diamondbacks pay for their retribution with a game-tying, two-run homer to right field. Crawford said he was motivated by the purpose pitches to Posey.
“That kind of fired me up,” Crawford said. “When he walked I wanted to make them pay for doing it. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, that’s really what I was going for, I guess. When I got up to the plate I at least wanted to get him in, and fortunately I was able to get a pitch that could get us both in.”
It gave Crawford a team-high 57 RBIs, and he notched his 58th in the third inning. After Jake Lamb’s throwing error on a potential inning-ending grounder by Posey allowed one run to score – Samardzija, who had led off the inning with a double – Crawford singled through the right side to drive in Brandon Belt and give the Giants a 4-2 lead.
“Baseball’s got its own ways,” Samardzija said of the game turning on the second-inning drama. “This team never quits. I put them in a little hole early there and they hung with me and gave me a lead to work with, and that was that.”
Earlier in the day, after being named to the National League All-Star team through a fan vote for the final roster spot, Belt had deplored the fact that Crawford, who leads all N.L. shortstops in RBIs and has played spectacular defense, will not be joining him in San Diego.
“It sucks, honestly,” Belt said. “He should be there. And it would’ve been fun to play with him. He’s been kind of a battery mate for me in the infield.”
Crawford made two strong plays Friday, going to his backhand for a sharp Nick Ahmed grounder in the second inning and charging a slow chopper by the speedy Michael Bourn in the seventh. Both times he was aided by an athletic stretch from Belt at first base.
Corbin walked Grant Green with the bases loaded to force in a run in the fifth. It was his third walk of the inning and his final batter, and as manager Chip Hale changed pitchers he appeared to bark at Wolcott about a close 2-2 pitch to Green. Hale, too, was ejected.
It was Hale’s fifth career ejection as a manager. He has a ways to go to catch Bochy, who earned his 69th.
Bench coach Ron Wotus did well in Bochy’s absence. After Law defused Samardzija’s jam in the seventh inning, he handed the eighth to Sergio Romo, who allowed a leadoff single to Paul Goldschmidt before striking out the next three hitters.
“It was big, I think, for him as much as anybody,” Bochy said of Romo. “Hopefully it let him know that he’s fine, he’s back. He worked hard, he ran some 3-2 counts, but he did what he’s very good at, and that’s keep his poise.”
Hunter Strickland pitched a scoreless ninth with a big assist from center fielder Denard Span, who made a running catch at the wall to rob Weeks of an RBI extra-base hit. The Giants notched their majors-best 55th win and moved a season-high 22 games over .500.
▪ Span was back in the lineup after missing the last six games with neck stiffness.
None of the other injured Giants are expected back until after the All-Star break, but the signs on that front are encouraging. Joe Panik (concussion) and Matt Duffy (Achilles’ strain) both took ground balls on the field early Friday afternoon. Duffy was also going to hit and Bochy said the Giants may have an idea by Sunday of when both Duffy and Hunter Pence (hamstring surgery) will be able to start rehab assignments.
Matt Cain (hamstring), meanwhile, made a rehab start with the River Cats on Friday and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before allowing a single to his final batter. And Kelby Tomlinson (thumb) is continuing his recovery at Triple-A.
“We still have a little ways to go, but it’s good to see them out here just doing baseball activities,” Bochy said. “You have to be careful you don’t rush them because you do want them back as soon as you can get them. To see them at this point, you do see light at the end of the tunnel. It won’t be long.”