MILWAUKEE - Players are superstitious types, and in recent weeks, Jeff Samardzija has often flashed a sort of "Why are you doing this to me?" smile when asked about his increase in command and the lack of walks in his box scores.
Samardzija is not afraid to talk, however, about the changes he has made, and it's clear that they are working. With 10 more strikeouts and zero walks in a 7-2 win over the Brewers, Samardzija moved to an astounding 59 strikeouts to just one walk over his past seven starts, a stretch that goes back to the start of May.
It's simple, Samardzija said. He's staying back on the rubber during his delivery and letting his elite stuff take over.
"I'm an excitable guy and I like to throw hard, but it takes time to learn you've got to get your body in the right position to be able to throw with action where you want it," Samardzija said. "I haven't been drifting down off the rubber until it's time … it's just let everything happen on the rubber and after that just execute the pitch."
Samardzija said the new direction came from work done in bullpen sessions with pitching coach Dave Righetti.
"We came to the conclusion that I need to be in a little more control over the rubber," he said.
Nobody around the game is controlling the ball like Samardzija right now. Of all the pitchers with one walk since May 1, Samardzija is the only one with more than 27 strikeouts. He is in the same mix as guys like Andrew Miller (24 strikeouts, one walk) and Kenley Jansen (23). The difference is Samardzija has to keep his delivery going deep into a game, not just for one inning.
"He's just repeating his delivery," manager Bruce Bochy said. "If you repeat your delivery, you're probably going to have consistent command."
Coming off two awful games in Philadelphia, Bochy rode Samardzija for 119 pitches Monday. That got him through 23 outs, and by that time Samardzija had a lead. Early on it looked like he might be in for yet another tough-luck loss, when Orlando Calixte's throwing error gifted the Brewers a run and put Samardzija in a 2-0 hole. But then he retired 19 straight. Asked if he had a talk with himself after the early issues, Samardzija smiled.
"I have a lot of talks with myself on a lot of different topics and subjects," he said. "I liked the way I warmed up. We kept pitching. There's no reason to panic. It was early in the game."
Samardzija kept the Brewers off the bases and the lineup chipped away. An Eduardo Nuñez homer resulted in one run and a Brewers error helped with another. Aaron Hill got to his former team in the top of the eighth with a two-run double with the bases loaded. The Giants tacked on three more in the ninth as the Brewers started to fall apart defensively and on the mound.
That all resulted in a rarity for Samardzija. This stretch has not shown up in the win column, as Samardzija entered the night with just one victory. That didn't really bother him. He's not a stats guy, and he has said repeatedly that he's just worried about how he feels on the mound.
"All year, man, I haven't really been too upset all year because I know how it's coming out and the results," he said.
Still, it's nice to get rewarded.
"He had it all going on in a place where he hasn't had a lot of success," Bochy said. "Good for him. He got the win. He should have a few more."