PHOENIX, Ariz. – During the regular season, Madison Bumgarner wouldn’t dare use an excuse to try and explain a bad outing, but in the early part of the Cactus League schedule, providing a little context is allowed.
For the Giants’ 23-year-old southpaw, his second start of the spring was more about developing command of his pitches, including a new addition to his arsenal, than results. Bumgarner didn’t make it out of the second inning against many of the Oakland A’s projected starting line-up, as he allowed one run on three hits and two walks before departing with runners on the corners and two outs.
“I’ve been trying to throw my sinker a lot more away; just a two-seam fastball away,” Bumgarner said as he waited for the hot water to return to the visiting clubhouse at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. “Right now, I haven’t found a good release point. It’s starting out where it should end up … starting out on the corner and ending up off the plate a lot. [I] just got to get that going a little better, but it feels good. It’s got good movement.”
While his pitching line was not ideal, Bumgarner was sharp to open the first, jamming Jemile Weeks for an infield pop-up and striking out Scott Sizemore looking on a four-seam fastball.
The smooth sailing lasted all of two outs, though.
Oakland’s offseason outfield acquisition, Chris Young, who was 7-for-14 against Bumgarner while with the Arizona Diamondbacks, roped a single to left to extend the frame and Yoenis Cespedes followed with a walk. Bumgarner induced a weak fly ball to right off the bat of Jed Lowrie that looked like it might find the grass, but Francisco Peguero charged in to make a shoestring catch to end the inning.
A’s catcher Derek Norris opened the second with a single off Bumgarner, who bounced back by striking out Seth Smith swinging. Three batters later, after issuing his second free pass of the afternoon, Jemile Weeks sent Bumgarner’s 3-2 pitch past a diving Brett Pill at first base to put the A’s on the scoreboard and bring Bruce Bochy out of the dugout.
“He was just a touch off; I thought overall he was pretty good,” Bochy said. “[The two-seam fastball is] going to be a big pitch for him. It’s going to help him use both sides of the plates. He’s got the fastball in, the cutter in and of course the two-seamer, when he gets that down and away, now he’s got both sides to work with.”
Since the two-seamer is still a work in progress, Bumgarner isn’t ready to proclaim it his new ‘out pitch’
“It’s nothing special,” he said. “It’s just a regular two-seam grip to get a little tail. I don’t think it’s too nasty or nothing; it’s just got a little movement.”
For Bumgarner, the drive to perfect his craft competes with the desire to put up good numbers, even when the games don’t count.
“You want to go out there and pitch good, but that’s the difficult part about [spring training],” Bumgarner said. “You want to do that, but there’s more important things to work on to prepare you for the season … Hopefully they both go good, but today wasn’t the case.”
Other than the two-seam fastball, which Bumgarner said he tried briefly using when he first came up to the big leagues but had abandoned since, and his usual four-seamer, the Giants’ No. 2 starter mixed in some change-ups, curveballs and cutters as well.
“Command wasn’t that good but I was working on pitches I don’t usually throw a whole lot,” Bumgarner said. “The change-up was about half and half today. Half of them were good, half were bad. Just got to throw it some more.”
As a southpaw, most of Madison Bumgarner’s pitches break inside to a right-handed pitcher and away from left-handers. That’s why the end goal of adding an effective two-seamer, which moves in the opposite direction, is worth some spring training hiccups.
“I just feel like it’ll help to have a couple pitches going the other way,” Bumgarner said. “I’m trying to get a good mixture of all of them.”
Bumgarner worked two scoreless innings in his first Cactus League start on Feb. 25 against the Chicago White Sox and compared the two outings.
“I feel like certain things were better about the last one, and certain things were better about this one,” he said. “Just little stuff. It’s only the second start of the year. Still got a lot of time.”
If he uses that time to concentrate on commanding the two-seam fastball, expect more spring struggles with the eventual payoff of him being more effective during the regular season.