Madison Bumgarner has been so consistent — historically so for such a young starting pitcher — that it seems like the difficulties he has faced over the last two months are completely foreign. As a Major Leaguer, that’s true. Besides that start against the Twins, Bumgarner has never drawn much notice for anything he’s done wrong. However, those who follow the Giants’ organization closely remember when everyone panicked a year before Bumgarner hit the big leagues.
Frequently last year the Giants’ ace prospect would be playing catch alongside his fellow pitchers, and Bumgarner would be so focused on tinkering with his mechanics that he’d outlast them all, often to the detriment of his fatiguing arm.
“Guys would be done and I’d keep throwing pitches, trying to perfect them,” Bumgarner said recently.
That quest for perfection may have done Bumgarner more harm than good. The buzz in camp this spring for San Francisco’s top pitching prospect was a loss of velocity that has persisted since last summer. Despite his stellar results last season — he went 12-2 with a 1.85 ERA at two minor-league stops last year and pitched 10 innings with 10 strikeouts and only two runs allowed in the majors — Bumgarner’s 94-95 mph fastball had slipped to the upper 80s, a drop that the pitcher blames on throwing too much between starts.
“Quality, not quantity,” he said.
That’s probably why Bumgarner told reporters last night that in preparation for his Game 1 start, he used the following tactic: “Trying to just cut back on stuff in between.”
On one hand, the good news is that Bumgarner has dealt with the same problem before and came out of it without any problems. He probably needs rest, not a medical diagnosis.
The bad news: we can’t expect the velocity on his fastball or the bite on his slider to magically reappear just because he skipped a bullpen session or two.
At this point, all the Giants can do is move him out of the rotation and hope a restful off-season leads to renewed life on Bumgarner’s pitches. That doesn’t help against the St. Louis Cardinals. However, with Bumgarner a significant part of the Giants’ plans through 2017 at the earliest, a long-term injury for a pitcher who just completed his second straight 200-inning season is of greater concern than whether he’ll start in a potential Game 5.