DENVER - The signs have been there the whole time. Since returning from a pectoral injury, Jeff Samardzija has consistently struggled to show good velocity in the first inning of starts. Sometimes, he would come out looking like the Samardzija of old, and on those nights he will usually smile and point out that the warm weather helped him get in gear.
It wasn't scorching in Denver on Tuesday, but it wasn't cold, either. Regardless, Samardzija never got going. His fastball sat at 91 mph in the first inning and when it was over he was met by trainer Dave Groeschner, manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Curt Young. Samardzija would make just one more move on this night, snapping a bat over his knee after Bochy told him his start was over.
"He just couldn't get loose," Bochy said. "It wasn't worth the risk."
Officially, the Giants are calling it a tight right shoulder. Officially, they called his earlier shoulder issue a pectoral strain, but those in the know have hinted that it wasn't ever that simple. Samardzija does not publicly talk about any pain he's feeling, but on Tuesday night he hinted that this has been an issue throughout the season. He clearly has never taken the mound at 100 percent, or possibly anywhere close to it.
"It's been pretty consistent here the whole time," he said. "That's just the way it goes. Today it just didn't respond."
Now, the Giants have to figure out how they're going to respond. Bochy was still fresh off an ugly 11-4 loss to the Rockies when he met with reporters, so he didn't have much info. But he said he'll talk with Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and Groeschner and try to figure out what's next. At the very least, Samardzija will go for more tests on his shoulder, and Bochy expects him to miss at least one start. That could lead to all kinds of shuffling.
The Giants had planned to have Madison Bumgarner make one more rehab start for the San Jose Giants on Thursday and then return to the big leagues Tuesday, but Bochy said the staff will now go back over their weekend rotation. An extended absence from Samardzija would keep another struggling pitcher in the rotation, whether that's rookie Andrew Suarez or lefty Ty Blach, who mopped up the eighth inning Tuesday because Bochy was out of fresh bullpen arms. At some point, you figure Dereck Rodriguez will get a look. He was intriguing in relief of Samardzija on Tuesday.
Bochy thinks he has enough depth to get through the series finale, and the team is off Thursday, so some gassed relievers will have a chance to recover. But moving forward, this is a gaping hole with no easy fix. The Giants have no pitching depth and the current staff has given up 50 runs over this seven game trip. Not surprisingly, six of the games have been losses. Bumgarner alone won't fix that, and the other options at Triple-A have mostly already come up here and failed already.
Samardzija hoped to be part of the solution. He rushed back after the injury ended his spring, and it was clear he was rusty in every respect. It took weeks for the velocity to get close to the old range. It took a month for his slider to return. But the Giants needed him, so he tried to provide some innings. On Tuesday, it was time to pull the plug.
"I always want to pitch, man," Samardzija said. "I always feel like I'm okay to pitch. Sometimes other people have got to step in and tell you differently."