SAN FRANCISCO — Madison Bumgarner continues to strike out more and more batters, and he has come tantalizingly close to a 20-win season. But ask Bumgarner about stats and he always gravitates back to the one that matters most to him: Innings pitched.
Bumgarner has five consecutive 200-inning seasons and has thrown 637 regular-season innings the past three seasons. Jeff Samardzija, who was introduced Friday at AT&T Park, has three straight 200-inning seasons and 647 1/3 total for three teams since the start of 2013.
How many Giants starters have thrown 200 innings during that time? Zero. If you’re looking for a reason why the Giants reached out to Samardzija as soon as free agency started and signed him the day after losing out on Zack Greinke, this one is front and center.
“Everybody wants innings,” vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean said. “As much as this contract is about performance, it’s about going to the post. I think the greatest compliment we can pay Jeff is: Last year under some duress, when the season didn’t go as planned, he pitches 214 innings.”
Samardzija had two shutouts last season, the entire Giants staff had four. He pitched at least eight innings on seven different occasions, one fewer than Bumgarner. The rest of the Giants starters did it five times, and three of those starts came from pitchers — Tim Lincecum, Tim Hudson and Mike Leake — who are not currently Giants. Samardzija pitched at least seven innings in 19 of his 32 starts and failed to get through five just three times. That’s rare for a pitcher who had a 4.96 ERA.
“In the games I saw him struggle, he found a way to stay in the game, which is more than admirable because what it does is shows that, ‘OK, I’ve given up some runs, but now my next job is to save this bullpen.’” Sabean said. “There were some games he was taken out of that I know he didn’t want to come out of, and some games he probably had the manager by the throat saying, ‘Don’t take me out, I’m going to finish as many innings as I can.’ That’s what you go by.”
Former Cubs manager Rick Renteria made some waves two seasons ago when he let Samardzija throw 126 pitches in an early-season loss on a night when temperatures dipped into the 30s in Chicago. Afterward, Samardzija said pitch counts don’t mean much, and on Friday he said durability is a point of pride. He wants to be out there late in games, in big spots, and he’s enjoyed watching other Giants pitchers do the same in the past.
“(You see) guys getting big outs with runners in scoring position, Buster (Posey) giving fist pumps with two outs and runners on, jacked,” Samardzija said, his excitement building. “I just kept seeing those things over and over again in Giants uniforms that I wanted to be a part of.”
The Giants are counting on Bumgarner and Samardzija giving them 400-plus quality innings a year, believing it will have a dramatic effect on the rest of the team. While many in baseball are gravitating toward super-bullpens that take over after five, the Giants are going a different way. They have a strong bullpen, but manager Bruce Bochy believes it was overused in 2015. It seemed like four or five times a week, Bochy would have Yusmeiro Petit or George Kontos warming up in the third or fourth. Bochy likes to let a starter get through five and qualify for a win, but it was often a struggle to reach that point with several of the 2015 starters.
Bumgarner was the exception from start to finish, and Samardzija, listed at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, wants to keep pace with the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Bumgarner.
“He’s like a lefty version of me. It’s kind of weird, man,” Samardzija said. “I watch him pitch. Grumpy all the time on the mound. Swinging out of his shorts. I’m a big fan of Madison. Obviously, my resume doesn’t meet what he’s done so far in his career, but there’s always things you can learn from other guys and why they’ve had success and pick his brain.”
Will Samardzija, a former college football star, be able to match Bumgarner’s hitting exploits? He’s a career .130 hitter, but Samardzija does have two homers. He said Friday that he ran a 4.5-second 40 when he was a wide receiver.
“I put on a couple pounds since then. I was a lean 210, 212 then,” he said, laughing. “I couldn’t put on weight then. So now it’s a little bit more about that right-arm stamina and strength than the lower half. I’ll still let it go if I hit one in the gap.
“There are big gaps here so I’ll be looking toward taking that double into a triple, for sure.”