Jeff Samardzija, who was acquired by the Oakland Athletics in a weekend trade with the Chicago Cubs, won his Athletics debut on July 6 when he pitched seven strong innings in a 4-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Samardzija -- who was traded by the Chicago Cubs to the Athletics along with Jason Hamell for Addisson Russell, Billy McKinney, Dan Straily and a still unidentified player -- pitched seven strong innings in the win, per BayAreaNewsGroup.com's John Hickey (via InsideBayArea.com):
"Riding the high-energy input from starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, the A's completed a four-game sweep of Toronto on Sunday with a 4-2 victory over the Blue Jays.
"And now the fun begins. The A's host the Giants on Monday and Tuesday, then play at San Francsico on Wednesday and Thursday. Oakland is in first place, the Giants are a hair out of first place and even if that weren't true, both teams would be geared up for this one.
"'Yeah, we look forward to it,' first baseman Brandon Moss said. 'It's the same as when we look forward to when the Rangers come in, the Angels come in. When someone that you have a competitive rivalry with comes in, you get amped up for it.'
"So the A's and Giants play every year as part of Major League Baseball's 'natural rivalry' program. And while some natural rivals are anything but, the description fits the A's and Giants as well.
"For Oakland, the Giants may as well be an American League West team for as much drive as the A's put into it. And given how many times the two teams play in Arizona each spring and in the preseason Bay Bridge series, the teams know each other very well.
"'It always make for an interesting series,' Moss said. 'Both cities have unique ways of supporting their teams. They come out, they make it loud, they make it feel like a football atmosphere.
"'When you get these two teams on the field, you can't help but feel that energy. That's what makes it fun.'"
As for Samardzija, he had to wait for almost two months before recording his first win with the Cubs. He gets it on his very first try in Oakland, says Hickey:
"It took him almost two months to get his first win with the Cubs, and when he did, he beat the Giants on May 26. He won't pitch in these four games, but he will be an interested viewer.
"'When you come in, you don't want to mess it up,' Samardzija said. 'They were doing just fine without me. I don't want to come in and change anything and change the atmosphere. I just want to come in, make a seamless transition into this team and we'll see what happens.'
"The A's made is as easy as the could on Samardzija. They scored once in the second inning on a Craig Gentry infield hit for an RBI, then twice in the fourth on RBI singles by Nate Freiman and John Jaso. The pitcher had gotten as many as three runs from the Cubs in just six days of his 17 starts, so this was a baseball oasis for the right-hander.
"He made the most of it. After the first inning, he didn't give up a hit until the sixth, when two hits with one out produced a run. Samardzija stopped the bleeding there with a couple of grounders, then struck out the side in the seventh before turning the game over to the Oakland bullpen.
"'He fits in well here,' Melvin said. 'That performance was terrific.'"
ESPN's David Schoenfield weighed in Samardzija's debut in an Athletics uniform:
"I wonder who was more nervous on a Sunday afternoon: Jeff Samardzija or Billy Beane?
"Beane is notorious for not only watching Oakland's games, but I guess he paid a little more attention to this one. Samardzija made his A's debut against the Blue Jays. And while it was just one start of 16 or so he'll make for Oakland this season -- and hopefully get a few more in October -- it was an important one.
"Samardzija obviously wanted to get off to a good start for his new teammates, and Beane, not that he cares what the pundits say about the deal, certainly has a lot riding on Samardzija's performance.
"Samardzija was terrific, allowing five hits and one run in seven innings as the A's beat the Blue Jays 4-2. Pumping it up to 97 mph on the radar gun, Samardzija finished the big right arm that turned him into one of the National League's best pitchers best pitchers with the Cubs (he had been voted on to the NL All-Star team by the players despite his 2-7 record).
"But the 29-year-old had something to prove as well: After posting a 1.68 ERA through May, he's had two rough outings in June that pushed his ERA to 5.45 for the month and 2.83 for the season. Beane is betting those starts were an abberation and that he just traded for a guy who can join Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray for a 1-2-3 combo that lines up nicely in a playoff series in some order (with Jason Hammel, also acquired in Friday night's big trade, in the mix as a fourth starter).
"Samardzija threw 57 fastballs, and while he didn't record any strikeouts with it, he did get eight groundballs. That's been a key to his improvement this year: After allowing 20 home runs in 2012 and 25 in 2013, he's allowed just seven this year as his groundball rate has risen from 45 percent two years ago to 54 percent.
"Four of his five strikeouts came on his splitter, and that pitch and his slider gave him two wipeout weapons when he gets to two strikes. Batters are hitting .111 against the splitter and .206 against the slider, with just two home runs combined in in 131 at-bats ending with those pitches. With his four-seamer, two-seam sinking fastball and cutter, he's developed into a five-pitch guy, all arguably above-average pitches."
Samardzija is in his seventh MLB season. He has 644 strikeouts and a career 3.95 ERA in 673 innings pitched, per ESPN stats.