The Giants set up their rotation for their opening series against the Dodgers so that Jeff Samardzija wouldn’t have to start a game at Dodger Stadium. They carried 16 pitchers on their Opening Day roster, and Samardzija was the only one who didn’t make his season debut during that four-game set in Los Angeles.
But the Giants had less maneuverability on their second visit to Chavez Ravine. They arrived in the middle of a season-long 10-game road trip, limiting their ability to create more favorable matchups against the archrivals.
San Francisco sent Samardzija to the mound for his scheduled turn in Friday night’s series opener, but the veteran right-hander continued his rough start to the season, yielding six runs (five earned) over four-plus innings in a 7-2 loss to the Dodgers.
The Giants have now lost five of their last six games, falling to 6-9 with a quarter of their 60-game season in the books. More challenges lie ahead, as they are scheduled to face Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler over the final two games of this series. This difficult juncture has the potential to become the defining stretch of the season for the Giants, who dropped five games back of the first-place Rockies in the National League West.
Samardzija has allowed 15 earned runs over 13 2/3 innings (9.88 ERA) in his first three starts of the season, each of which the Giants have lost. He has been particularly susceptible to the long ball, surrendering six homers in 2020, including three to Mookie Betts, Max Muncy and Will Smith on Friday.
“Shark is a pitcher who is going to rely on location,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It’s important for you to find the corners of the plate. It’s important for you to locate all of your pitches and land all of your pitches for strikes. If you’re able to do that, you have an opportunity to beat teams. Right now, he’s just not able to locate the pitches like he’s used to, and teams are getting it done.”
Samardzija’s home run total now exceeds his strikeout total (five), a troubling sign of his inability to consistently miss bats and limit the damage. The 35-year-old has been dealing with a blister on his pitching hand, which has prevented him from throwing his splitter, his go-to wipeout pitch.
“Too many times we're getting to these 0-2, 1-2 counts and battling along for too long,” Samardzija said. “We need to make sure if we get them in the hole, we finish them. You give these big league hitters too many opportunities, they’re going to take advantage of it. We’ve got to get them up and send them down as fast as possible.”
Samardzija opened his outing with two scoreless innings, but he ran into trouble on his second time through the Dodgers’ lineup. Mike Yastrzemski doubled and scored on an RBI single by Donovan Solano to give the Giants a 1-0 lead in the third, but the Dodgers tied the game on a solo shot by Betts in the bottom half of the inning.
The Giants were again hurt by sloppy defense, as left fielder Darin Ruf misplayed a single by Cody Bellinger, allowing the reigning National League MVP to cruise into second base. Justin Turner followed with an RBI single, putting the Dodgers ahead, 2-1. San Francisco has committed 18 errors through its first 15 games of the season, the most in the Majors.
The Dodgers padded their lead in the fourth on a leadoff homer by Muncy and a two-run shot by Smith. Samardzija came back out for the fifth, but he loaded the bases with no outs on a walk and two hit batsmen. The second hit batter, Kiké Hernández, reacted in a strange way after appearing to be grazed on the elbow, disputing home-plate umpire Jim Reynolds’ call and pleading to continue his plate appearance rather than take first base.
“He’s just being honest,” Samardzija said. “It’s a good quality to have.”
The Giants challenged the call, but the ruling was upheld following a replay review. Kapler subsequently emerged from the dugout to pull Samardzija in favor of lefty reliever Sam Selman.
Selman retired Muncy on a shallow flyout to center field and then nearly escaped the jam by inducing a potential double-play ball from Chris Taylor. Evan Longoria fielded the grounder and threw to Solano to get the forceout at second base, but Solano lost his grip on the relay throw, allowing Taylor to reach first and bring in another run for the Dodgers.
Samardzija, who is in the final season of the five-year, $90 million deal he signed with the Giants in December 2015, departed after throwing 90 pitches.
“You need to go out there and have your best stuff against those guys,” Samardzija said. “Today wasn’t it.”