Jeff Samardzija Using Reliever's Mindset in Giants Starting Rotation

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Jeff Samardzija was a relief pitcher early in his career, so he knows what it's like to air it out from the start of an appearance. The Giants have him locked into the rotation, but they still want him to take that old approach. 

Samardzija's run of five consecutive 200-inning seasons ended last year, and with the right-hander coming off a season wrecked by a persistent shoulder injury, the Giants have no intention of letting him get anywhere close to that mark this season. Once Samardzija accepted that he's no longer needed as a workhorse, he started thinking about different ways to use those 100 or so pitches every fifth day. 

"Before, regardless of the situation, you're attacking and trying to get a guy out on three pitches," Samardzija said. "Now, with the way the game goes, and coming off of last year, it's going to be nice. It's, let's go out and get guys out from the beginning with the idea of seeing how long those 100 pitches can get you."

After Samardzija had another good spring outing Sunday, his manager set an easier-to-hit target. Bruce Bochy said he met with Samardzija early in the spring and told him the 200-inning years weren't needed anymore. 

"He knows his job is not to just eat innings," Bochy said. "He's going to go as hard as he can go for five or six. With the bullpen we have, we have him covered."

The change of pace is somewhat ironic given the reason the Giants signed Samardzija in the first place. They had such trouble getting starters deep into games in 2015 that the front office went out and gave Samardzija and Johnny Cueto $220 million. 

Samardzija hasn't always posted good numbers as a big league starter, but he has always been an innings-eater, in part because of an ability to handle a lineup a third time. In 2017, when he led the league in innings, Samardzija allowed a .693 OPS the first time he faced a batter, but it was just .765 the second time and .775 the third time. 

That's not what you see from most starters, which is a big part of the reason why modern front offices aren't letting their pitchers get deep into games anymore. There is almost always a third-time-through penalty, but Samardzija actually prefers life late in games. 

"I love the third time through," he said. "As a pitcher, as long as you're repeating what you're doing, you're going to have a good idea of what they're hitting and not hitting ... I remember what I did to them the first couple of times. Either you stick to that because it worked, or you mix it up because it didn't."

For now, that process is one Samardzija won't have to worry about as much. He said he may go to off-speed pitches earlier in games now, knowing that he doesn't need to save any tricks for the seventh or eighth inning. He'll pitch to the score more, and be in constant communication with Bochy. The innings count will be way down, but the Giants hope the other numbers head in a more positive direction. 

[RELATED: Drew Pomeranz in comfort zone on Giants with old pitching coach]

To even have a shot at returning to his old form, Samardzija will need cooperation from his right shoulder. The early signs are promising. In three starts, Samardzija has allowed just one run -- a solo homer by Hunter Pence. He has given up five hits in 8 2/3 innings, and hasn't had any health setbacks.

"That's good work, isn't it?" Bochy said. "Especially here in the Cactus League. He has been sharp with his command and stuff. I like where his (arm) slot is and his delivery. He has really done a nice job getting back to where he needs to be as far as arm strength."

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