SAN FRANCISCO – Madison Bumgarner is big and strong. He competes well. He’s in that sweet spot of his career where he has youth on his side, yet also experience to draw upon.
And he’s only getting better.
Bumgarner didn’t just blow away the Atlanta Braves by pounding the zone with premium stuff in the Giants’ 10-1 victory Saturday afternoon. He made an adjustment to an aggressive, strikeout-prone lineup – expanding with two strikes and tempting the Braves to chase pitches at the eyes or in the dirt.
They complied more often than not, as Bumgarner struck out 11 in seven innings. And the Giants complied with more than enough support, including a pinch, three-run double from Gregor Blanco in the fifth inning that more or less iced it on a warm and sunny afternoon at China Basin.
Starting pitching report
The Giants have put together their share of winning streaks this season, but this little two-gamer has a different feel.
That’s because it’s the first time all year the Giants have received back-to-back truly terrific outings from their celebrated rotation. Over the last two victories, Bumgarner and Matt Cain have held the Braves to three runs on seven hits while striking out 18 in 15 innings.
Believe it or not, it’s the first time the Giants have received back-to-back starts of at least seven innings and no more than two runs since July 23-24 last year, when Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong held down the Padres.
Bumgarner (4-1) was terrific from the outset while holding the Braves to four hits in seven innings and recording double-digit strikeouts for the 10th time in his career. He retired the first 11 batters before Justin Upton reached on an infield single.
He limited the damage while facing his only real jam in the fifth inning, after Evan Gattis led off with a fly ball that left fielder Francisco Peguero misplayed into a double. Opposing pitcher Paul Maholm hit an RBI single, but Bumgarner stranded runners at the corners when leadoff hitter Andrelton Simmons popped up to third baseman Pablo Sandoval in foul ground.
Bumgarner used to struggle against aggressive lineups because he left too many two-strike pitches in hittable locations. Not this time. He blew away Simmons with a high fastball in the fourth, and kept bouncing two-strike curves in the dirt to Chris Johnson.
And he showed little mercy. Johnson already had struck out twice on curves in front of the plate when he hit a painful foul ball off his shin in the sixth. Bumgarner went right back to another curve and Johnson went down fishing for a third time to leave two runners on base.
Bumgarner is now holding opponents to a .138 average (4 for 29) with runners in scoring position.
The left-hander ended a four-start winless streak -- in which the Giants had scored a grand total of four runs for him.
Chad Gaudin pitched around two baserunners in the eighth and Jeremy Affeldt pitched around two singles – and dodged a broken bat on the game’s final out -- in the ninth
At the plate
Maholm (4-4) had held left-handers to four hits in 49 at-bats all season – numbers that Giants manager Bruce Bochy called “stupid.”
But the Giants’ one straight lefty hitter in the lineup, Brandon Crawford, ended up looking pretty smart. He singled and doubled in his two at-bats against Maholm. The double came in the fourth inning and scored Buster Posey, who had reached on a leadoff walk. It gave the Giants a 2-0 advantage, adding to the lead that Sandoval provided in the first inning with a solo home run – his fifth of the year.
The Giants knocked Maholm to the bench in a four-run fifth inning. Unlike their big rally against Tim Hudson a night earlier, there weren’t that many seeing-eye hits or funky choppers this time.
There was a misplay, though. Justin Upton tried to make a shoestring catch of Marco Scutaro’s line drive and it got past him for a triple. After Sandoval was hit by a pitch just above his right wrist, Buster Posey stayed hot with an RBI double to the bricks in right field.
Maholm’s last act was to issue an intentional walk to Hunter Pence that loaded the bases. Then Bochy had the trap ready when right-hander Cory Gearrin entered to pitch to Francisco Peguero. The Giants’ manager sent up Gregor Blanco’s left-handed bat instead, and this time it was Bochy’s turn to look smart as Blanco emptied the bases with a double.
Blanco made it a career-best four-RBI afternoon in the eighth when his drive down the left field line eluded an ungainly Gattis for a triple that scored Pence.
The Giants got more production from their bench before the four-run eighth was over. Backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz hit an RBI double and Brandon Belt improved to 2-for-2 as a pinch hitter when he added a two-run single.
Justin Upton used to play in the NL West with Arizona, so it was baffling to see him roam right field at AT&T Park like he’d never been there before.
Bumgarner made the niftiest play of the game when he fielded B.J. Upton’s bunt and threw from his knees for the out.
Joaquin Arias, who entered at third base on a double switch, did well in the ninth when he stayed with a flat hop off Reed Johnson’s bat and threw across the diamond for an out.
The Giants announced 41,530 paid, and no, I’m not trading you my Dave Flemming bottle stopper.
The Giants will try for their seventh victory on this 10-game homestand when they finish up their four-game series with the Atlanta Braves on Sunday. Tim Lincecum (2-2, 4.75) takes the ball against right-hander Kris Medlen (1-4, 3.25), who will attempt to help the Braves salvage a split. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 PDT.