LOS ANGELES – Madison Bumgarner is 23 years old and he has a long memory.
He hasn’t forgotten his first start a year ago, when the Arizona Diamondbacks turned his fastballs into pool toys. He is still chafed by 2011, when he was 1-6 through nine assignments.
If someone paused to watch a home run against him at South Caldwell High School … well, he’s probably still pursing his lips over that, too.
Bumgarner does not forget. And in his first start of 2013, he was unforgiving.
Eight innings. No runs. Two hits. No other baserunners. Six strikeouts. And not even a three-ball count until the sixth inning.
Did he know that last factoid?
“I did, actually,” he said after pitching the Giants to a 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. “When it happened, I thought, `I haven’t had one of these yet.’”
Those moments are the little gifts that come on a night when your four-seam fastball is tailing, your cutter is finding the handle and you’re cooking up strikes to order. Who knows if it was mechanics or fatigue that knocked Bumgarner off line in the second half of last season, when his fastball velocity plummeted and he got knocked around. Maybe fatigue led to dropping his arm, which led to trying to reach back for those mph, which led to the over-rotation that made his long and loopy delivery longer and loopier.
He found it in time to beat the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the World Series, and then, when others might have been reading the latest issue of Horse&Rider with their boots on the ottoman, Bumgarner spent a good chunk of his winter trying to tighten up his delivery.
One start into this season, and he put the squeeze on the Dodgers.
And he smiled at Bruce Bochy in the dugout:
“It’s nice to get off to a good start,” he told the manager.
“That kid, he’s special,” Bochy said. “He worked had on shortening things up and he was on today. What a game. We’re seeing some great pitching here. … He really did a great job getting strike one – and quality strikes, too. All of his pitches, he had good tempo and a good delivery and great stuff. When he’s on, he’s tough.”
Said catcher Buster Posey: “He just seemed in control from start to finish. He just had really good mound presence.”
Bumgarner said he used his cutter inside to right-handers and his four-seamer was so dependably running outside that he kept throwing it even in two-strike counts. He used it to lock up lefties inside, too. Andre Ethier saw four of them for strikes in his final at-bat, and couldn’t put one into play.
“He was throwing in so well, so when he can locate on the outside corner, he can really, really make it tough,” Posey said.
Forgive the Dodgers if they do not remember a time when Bumgarner was off his game. He is 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA in his last six starts against them since May, 2011.
Bumgarner, asked what mechanical changes he made from last year, said it would take "an hour and a one-on-one interview" to explain it all, but he's concentrating on stepping straight back out of the windup instead of off to the side. And he's not turning his back to the hitter as he gathers his momentum.
Bumgarner helped himself with an RBI, too, by managing to make contact in the seventh inning. Bochy didn’t entertain any thoughts of pinch-hitting for Bumgarner when the Dodgers lifted lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu for a right-hander with two runners in scoring position and one out.
It was “pretty weird” for Bumgarner to be in the on-deck circle when the Dodgers made a pitching change.
But is it a good feeling?
“It’s not a good feeling when you see Belisario run on the field,” Bumgarner said. “Not disrespecting Ryu at all, but he’s pretty nasty.”
A ball in play turned into two runs when Dodgers fill-in shortstop Justin Sellers collected a grounder and threw wildly to the plate, and Belisario didn’t cover the dish.
It allowed Sergio Romo’s first save opportunity to be a more casual affair, and Bumgarner had a season-opening debut he won’t soon forget.
"Probably the best I've felt in a long time," he said. "It feels good to start out this way. Now I've just got to keep working, make sure I don't step back."