MESA, Ariz. — Dexter Fowler hit a hard shot down the line to open the bottom of the sixth on Saturday afternoon, but Brandon Bednar was there. The minor leaguer had just been inserted into the game, and he made a slick scoop before hopping up and jogging to the bag. The starting pitcher, Jeff Samardzija, appreciated the effort, even if he was a little confused by the sequence.
“I had to ask Duffy his name,” Samardzija said. “He said it was Brandon. It was like, ‘Atta boy, Brandon!’”
The play was one of 11 ground ball outs in six innings for Samardzija, who had his best start of the spring and afterward declared himself ready for his first regular season appearance, which will come in Milwaukee. Since the game is in the Midwest, Samardzija, an Indiana native, expects some family members in the stands for his Giants debut. He’s excited for it, and after Saturday’s outing the Giants are, too.
The rotation has struggled all spring, but a day after Johnny Cueto had a good start at Scottsdale Stadium, Samardzija held the Cubs to two runs on five hits. The NL Central favorites repeatedly pounded Samardzija’s sinker into the ground, and he got fine plays from third baseman Matt Duffy, shortstop Ehire Adrianza and Bednar. Samardzija said he has enjoyed playing in front of the league’s best defensive infield.
“I’m going to bang the ball down in the zone, throw the sinker and slider and let those guys work for me,” he said. “I’m going to be buying guys a lot of dinners.”
That was the plan when the Giants gave Samardzija a $90 million deal. He had a 50 percent ground ball rate in 2014 when he posted a 2.99 ERA, and the Giants want him to get back to that. With Duffy, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Brandon Belt playing behind Samardzija, that’s certainly the easiest path to success.
“He can pitch to contact. He gets movement on the ball and he’s got good velocity,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He got a lot of ground balls. It’s going to work for him, especially with our infield.”
STOCK RISING: Jake Dunning entered with two on and two out in the eighth and got a strikeout. He’s not on the 40-man roster anymore, but you’ve got to think he’s not far down the bullpen depth chart after the way he’s thrown this spring. Depending on how the Opening Day bullpen shakes out, you figure Dunning is probably the second or third guy up at this point if they need help.
FAMILIAR FACE: Shawon Dunston Jr. came on midway through for the Cubs. In a past life I covered him when he was a Valley Christian (San Jose) star playing a game at Mitty. I remember two things from that game: 1) He threw a guy out at the plate, and had a ridiculous arm; 2) His proud dad watched from a lawn chair near the dugout and kept yelling at his son to smile and have fun. It was a cool scene.
Dunston Jr. drew a walk in the eighth today and later met up with his dad for a few minutes. As the son was walking to the dugout, a woman reached over the railing and asked for his autograph. “Sign it here, right next to where your dad signed,” she said.
NOTEWORTHY: Duffy was 3 for 4 and scored three runs. He hit his second homer of the spring … Angel Pagan has his legs back. That was clear once again when he singled, easily stole second and scored on a flare to right … Matt Cain will pitch in a camp game at the minor league facility on Monday so the Giants can monitor his workload. At the moment, they are very confident that he’ll be ready to face the Dodgers on April 8. With Cain pitching earlier in the day, Chris Heston starts the night game at Scottsdale Stadium, which will be televised.