- Doug Padilla, Chicago White Sox beat reporter
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After a somewhat slow start when he gave up two first-inning runs and went to a three-ball count on five of the first six batters, Samardzija settled into a groove and delivered the kind of outing the White Sox hoped they would get from the right-hander.
He not only retired 17 consecutive batters at one point, the most from a White Sox pitcher this season, but he also set down 21 of the last 22 batters he faced, throwing 118 pitches and lasting long enough for the White Sox's offense to put up a late run and earn him a victory in the team's 3-2 triumph over the Minnesota Twins.
"I have always known as long as I've been pitching you gotta get into that first inning and get out of there unscathed," Samardzija said. "Those things happen. They had a couple hits, found some grass and we got out of it with two and went from there. With this offense we have I know I have to battle every inning and we're gonna have a chance to win."
Samardzija's season has been all over the place. He had a rocky White Sox debut on Opening Day at Kansas City, and a brutal time at Baltimore on April 29, the game best known for the fact that no fans were in attendance.
Around those two clunkers, Samardzija has put together nice outings, like the back-to-back starts in April against the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians when he gave up one combined run over 14 innings -- getting a victory and a no-decision to show for it.
His last two starts topped that, starting with his previous outing last weekend at Oakland when he went eight innings, giving up three runs on eight hits. That was only a prelude to an outing Friday that was truly dominating once he finally settled in during the second inning.
"He just seemed to get stronger both games, really, as he went through it," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "I think that's what you kind of start to expect out of him. I think as the game goes along, he just seemed to be locating better, throwing harder, sharper stuff. You feel pretty comfortable, even with him up around 100 pitches, you're still feeling really good about him."
On his 118th and final pitch, Samardzija not only recorded his ninth strikeout when he fanned Brian Dozier, but he also hit 96 mph on the stadium radar gun. His brisk walk back to the dugout with his shoulders back and his head held high was a telling end to a solid night's work.
"Yeah, the last two times out I felt really good," Samardzija said when asked if his energy was building as he started to take control of the game. "Me and [pitching coach Don Cooper] made some adjustments in what we're doing and just trying to keep me back and not so aggressive all the time. Understand when you need to add and understand when you need to subtract. I feel good, my pitches are in the zone, which is the most important thing."
When Samardzija pitched well Sunday at Oakland, he was able to hand the ball off to Chris Sale, who followed with a solid outing of his own Monday against the Indians. That was the only game the White Sox won in that four-game series.
Now Samardzija hands the ball off to Sale again after dispatching a three-game losing streak with what appeared to be his best outing of the season.
"We have great guys to watch every time out," Samardzija said. "With me throwing before him I gotta make sure I have a good day, and If you get two in a row you have something going, like we did earlier in the week. We know what we're gonna get out of Chris. He's gonna do his thing and hopefully we can get a few more runs [Saturday]."
Following Sale is Jose Quintana, with Samardzija, Sale and Quintana forming the trio the White Sox hoped would set them apart in the American League Central. While all three have delivered solid outings at times, none have been consistently strong at the same time.
Only in their last turn through the rotation did they finally deliver three consecutive quality starts. Samardzija's outing Friday starts then down the road of doing it again.
"I think he feels better about the way he's going out there and competing right now," Ventura said of Samardzija. "The game in Oakland he was strong, and for him, I know he feels he wants to go eight, nine [innings] every night. That's the kind of guy you want going out there."
Indeed, Samardzija would have been just fine with taking the ball in the ninth inning Friday, even with 118 pitches already in the bank. It's just how he's programmed.
"I love to throw a lot, I throw a lot in bullpens, warming up," Samardzija said. "That's what we do, we throw. To put a limit on how much we throw seems a little contradictory."
Jeff Samardzija settles into a groove and delivers the kind of outing the Chicago White Sox hoped they would get from the right-hander.