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A Jeff Samardzija pitch disappearing may explain his start

Chris Mezzavilla/KNBR

He was careful to shrug and say it’s not an excuse, but Jeff Samardzija supplied a pretty good one for what has been off thus far.

The big righty has been unable to put hitters away, just two strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings in two poor starts to begin this abbreviated 2020 season. The control has lacked, too, as his 9.31 ERA can attest. But the biggest concern has been his inability to miss bats, his go-to splitter having disappeared.

Now we know why.

Samardzija said he has a blister that has been preventing him from throwing that splitter, instead tweaking the grip and filling out his arsenal with a changeup.

“Pulled the old changeup out of the bag of tricks, and it actually worked well for me today,” Samardzija said after the 9-5 loss to the Rangers at Oracle Park.

The big blows for Samardzija, who allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings, came on a Scott Heineman two-run double in the second off a cutter left in the middle of the plate and another cutter that Shin-Soo Choo slammed for a two-run home run in the fifth.

“Just bad pitch selection by me there to Choo,” said Samardzija of the 86-mph offering on a 2-0 count. “We’ve seen him going the other way, but that was more so early in the count. In a hitter’s count, we gotta think he’s looking to get ahead of one there. Something away probably would have been a little bit easier, maybe got a cheap out.”

Not many cheap outs have come for Samardzija, who was not unveiled in the opening series against the powerful Dodgers bats and got his second look of the season right before the Giants head to Coors Field. (Of course, a trip back to Dodger Stadium follows the Rockies series.)

If the Giants are trying to shield him from unfavorable matchups, it hasn’t worked: Perhaps it’s because of what he has lacked, but he hasn’t put away the weaker lineups.

“I think Shark hasn’t had his best command,” manager Gabe Kapler said over Zoom. “I think that’s played in for sure.”

Shark hopes his command and pitch will return for his next outing.

“I love that split, so I’ll be excited to get it back,” Samardzija said.

Kapler announced it’s a pulley injury in Drew Smyly’s left index finger that is sidelining him. He will not join the Giants on the road trip, and the team will reevaluate the lefty in 7-10 days.

Tyler Anderson threw two innings and 26 pitches. But Kapler said he still could start a game in the next few days as the Giants adjust to life without Smyly.

Chadwick Tromp hit his first career home run and knew it off the bat.

It’s been a whirlwind 24 hours for the young catcher, who said he’s been mostly talking with his family and hasn’t gotten any eye-opening calls or texts that surprised him. However, when he got called up he heard from the prime minister of Aruba.

Hunter Pence snapped his 0-for-23 streak with a triple. The outfielder said he has had no issues staying positive, which is not a surprise.

Perhaps his appreciation for the cutouts is more surprising.

“It’s never going to be the exact same without fans — fans are amazing. They’re incredible, we miss them,” Pence said. “But at the same time, you know the opportunity in this crazy year to be playing baseball at an elite level is something that’s always special.

“I will say that psychologically it does help to have the cardboard cutouts and as many as we do — for whatever reason, just knowing that the fans are excited to see themselves if a foul ball goes that way or whatever the case, you feel kind of the spirit of the people. So that has been helpful for sure.”

Rule 5 pick Dany Jimenez, who was recently designated for assignment, cleared waivers and has been returned to the Blue Jays.


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