SAN FRANCISCO — Bruce Bochy never liked hitting the pitcher eighth, but he has been committed to it through April, in good times and bad. Friday provided Bochy with a roller coaster of emotions as he contemplated the pluses and minuses of this new strategy.
Jeff Samardzija stranded five runners in his first two at-bats, then flipped the script and drove in a career-high three the next two times up. Oh, he also pitched 7 2/3 dominant innings, pacing an 8-1 win that snapped a five-game losing streak for the team and gave Samardzija a victory in his home debut.
Samardzija is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA through four starts. He has thrown 27 innings and has the two longest starts of the season for a Giants team still trying to find its footing. All of that earned him a lengthy standing ovation when Bochy pulled him with two down in the eighth.
“It’s a very educated fan base with high standards,” Samardzija said. “You want to live up to those standards. As a new guy, you want to prove your worth. Hopefully they saw something they liked.”
The sellout crowd was roaring all night, a far cry from the previous games this week. Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds kicked it off by taking the lineup card out before the first pitch, but the next cheers were reserved for current Giants. The scuffling lineup scored three times in the first and three more times in the fifth.
Samardzija was 0-for-2 when that inning started, having stranded five runners in two at-bats and eight in his last two starts. But after a second straight intentional walk to Brandon Crawford, Samardzija, who jokes that he’s a 5 o’clock hitter, poked an RBI single. He had a two-run double an inning later.
“You get lucky every so often,” Samardzija said, smiling. “You close your eyes and swing hard and hit it.”
His teammates wouldn’t let that stand. First baseman Brandon Belt said Samardzija has Bumgarner-like power in batting practice; he just needed to carry it over into a game. Bochy repeatedly pointed out how good of an athlete the former Notre Dame wide receiver is.
That athleticism showed on the mound, too. Samardzija cruised, throwing 117 pitches before Bochy let him walk off to cheers. He walked none and struck out five, building off a strong start on the road.
“He’s a strong kid. He’s a guy that you can ride,” Bochy said. “I could have let him go, but with that lead I wanted to give him a little bit of a break.”
The Giants led by three early, five by the fifth, and seven by the end of the sixth. It was a far cry from the past five games, but players insisted they never panicked as the lineup scuffled. Belt said he somewhat expected a meeting to be called, but it never happened. This is a confident group, one that hitting coach Hensley Meulens knew would come out of the slump.
Bochy and his staff made just one notable change, moving Matt Duffy up to the No. 3 spot, which in turn led to Belt sliding between Buster Posey and Hunter Pence to break up righties. In a twist, Duffy — the only hitter to have a good series against the Diamondbacks — was the only one to go hitless. Six Giants had two hits, including Samardzija, who helped keep a strong run going for the pitchers.
Giants starters have batted eighth in 14 of 18 games and the No. 8 spot leads the lineup with 13 RBI. Bochy said he’ll pick his spots a bit more going forward and noted that Jake Peavy will hit ninth Saturday when Angel Pagan gets his first day off.
“You had one of those games where you think hitting the pitcher eighth is going to kill you, and then (Samardzija) comes through,” Bochy said. “You kind of feel for Craw because he gets walked twice there, and you know you’re taking the bat out of his hand (but) it worked tonight. I said there are going to be games where it’s going to be frustrating, and this could have been one of those games.”
Thanks to Samardzija and his career night at the plate, it wasn’t.