He followed a slow start to the season with a workmanlike middle, only to regress sharply by going 0-6 with an 8.82 ERA in August. He completed the month Saturday with a loss to the Seattle Mariners in which he gave up five runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings.
“You go back and look at your career, and there has been times like this for me when it hasn’t been easy,” Samardzija said. “In 2009 and 2010, those tough years for me, and that’s when you go back to it and remember how you came out of it, and it always comes back to the same thing: Hard work and commitment and the commitment to be good at the game.”
The transition into the tough August struggles was abrupt. While grinding out one outing after another leading up to the end of July, Samardzija had compiled 10 consecutive starts of seven innings or more. He was on track and looking like the yin to Chris Sale's yang.
Sure, he was 5-5 over that run, but he posted a solid 3.23 ERA and had 53 strikeouts with just 13 walks.
Then came his six-start August that included a gem in California against the Angels, in which he gave up just one run on eight hits over seven innings. He lost that outing, though.
“I think anybody that is like him that is a sinker guy, he sinks and cuts it, sometimes he’s probably trying to throw a cutter, and it will sink,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “If he’s trying to throw sink, it will cut. If you are having a sink, you better get it down in the zone or have them beat it in the ground.”
Samardzija has always given up his fair share of home runs, but lately, they have been too damaging to overcome. In another wobbly first inning Saturday, he gave up a two-run shot to Kyle Seager just nine pitches into the game.
This season, Samardzija has a 7.67 ERA in the first inning, and he has given up 25 overall runs.
“Yeah, again, it was a crooked-number homer, and it seems to repeat in what we're saying here,” Samardzija said. “Obviously, it's unfortunate, and it needs to stop happening. I just have to get that ball down going in. You leave it out over the plate, and Seager hits it out -- that's it.”
When talking about each start, Samardzija never is at a loss for words. He often blames himself for his struggles and says he has to be better. But he never goes too in-depth about what he might be working on mechanically. He avoids getting into too much detail about what is causing his issues.
Speculation on what is different about Samardzija has ranged from his mechanics (how he twists his body when delivering out of the windup) to the loss of sink on his split-finger pitch to the idea that he has lost focus with the team’s losing season to even speculation that he might not be 100 percent healthy.
Ventura was asked if Samardzija’s recent preparation has been what he saw earlier in the season.
“He’s been fine. That’s not the issue,” Ventura said. “As far as being prepared and competitiveness, all that stuff is as good as it’s going to get.”
One absurd idea is he simply has lost interest. Setting aside Samardzija’s strong desire as a competitor, he is at the end of his contract, and the belief entering the season was that a strong, full season in the American League would set him up for a lucrative payday on the open market.
While Samardzija will still get paid handsomely this winter, his August swoon means he isn’t likely to be among the top paid free agents. It also means that though the mind has been willing, the body hasn’t been able for whatever reason.
“I feel good. Everything's as is, it feels great, I’m throwing all the same,” Samardzija said when asked if he has anything nagging him physically. “Like I said, sometimes there's a couple pitches. You always have a couple games where you don't make 100 percent great pitches. Sometimes they turn to pop-outs or roll-overs. Just for me recently, they've been coming up to bite me in the butt, so you've got to go out there and have a perfect game and turn the tide on your own.”
Nobody will be more eager to see the calendar flip to September than Samardzija. He still could be in line for six more starts to shake off his second-half blues.
The White Sox’s hopes for a playoff push appear long lost, but how Samardzija handles himself the rest of the way still figures to offer intrigue. His next start will be no easy task, as he is lined up to pitch Friday at Kansas City, but perhaps a strong first inning will get him back on the correct path.
“What you need as a starting pitcher is to get into a good rhythm, and it usually starts with the first three outs," Samardzija said. “You have to get those first three outs and get your offense in the dugout, and you move on after that. When you put yourself in a hole like that, you’re battling the rest of the game, and that’s not where you want to be.”