Buster Posey

Bumgarner changes speeds masterfully as Giants beat Padres 11-3

Madison Bumgarner San Francisco Giants 2014

The Giants won Madison Bumgarner’s last start, 4-0. That was followed by four straight losses in games started by the other members of the rotation (the Giants did win 13-6 against Seattle in a split-squad game on Saturday, a game where Edwin Escobar was the starter).

The Giants dropped a 12-11 slugfest on Tuesday, but after that game Bruce Bochy said he was happy to see the bats wake up after slumbering for the better part of two weeks. The Giants’ hitters were ready for their 7:05 pm wakeup call in Peoria, scoring two runs in the first and five in the second (the last four runs coming on a Buster Posey opposite-field grand slam, as you can see in this GIF from @gidget).

With Bumgarner back on the mound, that was more than enough in an 11-3 win over San Diego.

The ball is carrying like crazy this week, but Bumgarner looks like he’d keep the ball from leaving any park these days, either here in Arizona, at Coors Field or on the moon. Tonight he struck out nine Padres in seven shutout innings. Even if you don’t include the four scoreless frames against the futures squad, Bumgarner has piled up 17 nearly perfect innings: 10 hits and two walks allowed, 16 strikeouts, no runs allowed.

“Sheesh, I don’t know what’s going on. I feel good, though. I don’t know. This is by far the best spring I’ve had, numbers wise. I felt pretty good today. Today I felt pretty close to ready, really. Everything felt good. Delivery felt good, consistent. Arm strength, I don’t know where it was at, but it felt like it was pretty close to where it was at in the seventh that it was early in the game. It felt really good. Happy about it,” said Bumgarner, who flashed a slow curveball a few times tonight that had San Diego’s hitters completely flummoxed.

According to MLB.com’s Gameday application, Bumgarner threw 21 curveballs, ranging from 65 mph to 83 mph. His first extra-slow curve, a 65-mph bender, was taken for a ball. The two he threw in the sixth inning both resulted in strikeouts — a 66-mph beauty that Everth Cabrera missed by about five feet, and a 69-mph that turned Carlos Quentin into a statue.

“I threw it some last year. Every once in a while,” said Bumgarner. “Just varying speeds with your pitches, can’t do anything but help as long as you pick the right time to do it.”

I took a look at Bumgarner’s game logs on Brooks Baseball (one of the best resources on the internet for anyone obsessed with the velocity and movement of every pitch thrown in the majors), and he noticeably increased the number of curveballs he threw as the 2013 season progressed.

Bumgarner threw 25 curves in an Aug. 28 start against the Rockies. Up to that point he had only thrown 20+ curveballs in one game in his career, on 7/24/12 against the Padres (23). Here’s how his next four starts went in terms of curves thrown:

  • 9/3/13 vs. Padres: 16
  • 9/8/13 vs. D-Backs: 24
  • 9/13/13 vs. Dodgers: 19
  • 9/19/13 vs. Mets: 27

It’s not like Bumgarner went from throwing no curveballs early on to dropping the hammer 22 times per outing over his last five starts of the season; he reached 19 curveballs a couple times earlier in the year (including two starts before that 8/28/13 one I mentioned earlier). And it appears that he touched 68 mph with a couple of those curveballs over his last five starts. But tonight it appeared that he was intent on throwing that extra-slow hook more often than before, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that this game was a clue as to how Bumgarner might somehow take a step forward from a pretty darned good 2013.

“Last year was when it really started, the development of his curveball,” Bochy said. “It’s going to be a big pitch for him. Commanding it both sides like he can, and even changing speeds on it a little bit.”

I had just finished tallying up all of Bumgarner’s 21 curveballs (six were 80+ mph, 11 were 75-77 mph, one was 72 mph and three were below 70 mph, in case you were wondering) from tonight’s outing before we ran over to the clubhouse beyond left field to talk to him. I asked Bumgarner whether Gameday charted him correctly, and he answered in true Bumgarner fashion.

“I don’t know. I really couldn’t tell you. (I could) go back and count ’em I guess. I don’t really care how many I threw. I feel happy with the pitch selection and all that. You don’t have to go out there and pump heaters all the time to prove yourself. I just want to get outs as quick as I can. I don’t give a s— if I throw 20 curveballs in a row.”

Extra BASGs

— Javier Lopez struggled in the ninth, giving up all three San Diego runs. It’s getting to the point this Spring where his struggles are almost getting predictable. I was sitting next to Alex Pavlovic in the second row during the bottom of the ninth, and when the enormous Kyle Blanks stepped to the plate with a man on third, I leaned over and told him that I could feel a home run coming. First pitch — WHAMMO.

Bochy didn’t sound worried about Lopez, however.

“His elbow was a little tender there early (this Spring). But we’ll get time to get him ready. They’re all going to have their ups and downs here this spring. Romo did, now he’s throwing the ball well. Had (Lopez) in a situation he’s probably not going to be in during the season either, facing all those right-handed bats. That’s not why we have him.”

Still, Lopez’s health might be something to monitor.

— Hector Sanchez is heating up. He had a three-run double today, and after starting out poorly from the plate he’s gone 6-for-13 over his last four games to raise his Cactus League average to .297.

— It looked like Hunter Pence beat Darren Ford in a footrace in the outfield during pregame warmups. It almost had to have been Ford, because afterward Pence trotted around in circles with both arms raised triumphantly as if he’d just won Olympic gold.

— While sitting in the press box, Pablo Sandoval hit a foul ball that sent Pavlovic and I scurrying to our left — it bounced off the window frame one foot to my right and two feet higher than where my head was when he made contact.

A little while later, another foul ball sent Henry Schulman flying. That one made it through the open window and put a dent in the wall behind where he was stationed (I can count at least four dents in the wall behind us).

After Bumgarner’s interview, Brandon Belt took a seat at his locker and told Schulman how impressed he was with the Chronicle beat writer’s reflexes. “Big Puma,” he called him.

New nickname? Perhaps …

— Belt was at first base when the ball came crashing through. How could he see which scribe was flying out of the way? Belt said that, like Will Clark, he has 20/12 vision. No Lasik commercials in his future.

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