SAN FRANCISCO – Striking out Yasiel Puig three times apparently is not so tough for Madison Bumgarner.
Keeping a secret is quite a challenge, however.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy told his young left-hander on Friday that he had picked him as a National League All-Star. Then Bumgarner had to bite his tongue for 24 hours.
“He told me to keep it a secret,” Bumgarner said. “I was definitely pretty excited. It was tough to walk around and not let anybody know about it.”
Instead, he took the mound Saturday at AT&T Park and showed a sellout crowd why he’s ticketed for the Midsummer Classic. Bumgarner bottled up the Los Angeles Dodgers with three-hit ball over seven innings, leading the Giants to a 4-2 victory.
That effort, not to mention the two RBI that Bumgarner collected, helped put the brakes on the Giants’ free fall. They had lost nine of their past 10 games and 15 of the last 19.
In a season where San Francisco’s starting pitching has greatly underachieved, Bumgarner has been the steadying force. Saturday’s victory moved his record to 9-5 and lowered his ERA to 3.05. Most notably, he is 6-2 with a 2.76 ERA against the National League West.
Bochy said there wasn’t a shred of doubt in his mind Bumgarner was deserving of a spot in the All-Star Game, set for July 16 at Citi Field.
“You look at how consistent he’s been, it’s been impressive,” Bochy said. “He was so excited about it. I wasn’t going to New York without him. I may take a hit on it, (but) I shouldn’t because he’s earned this.”
The Dodgers (41-45) have played their way into N.L. West contention, and they arrived in the Bay Area having won 10 of their last 12. Then they put a 10-2 whooping on the Giants and right-hander Matt Cain on Friday.
The Giants needed to make a stand and Bumgarner, still just 23, was up to the task. Most impressive was his handling of Puig, the Dodgers star rookie. Bumgarner struck him out three straight times, and Puig went down swinging four times altogether.
“He executed what he wanted to do -- down, up. … He used all of his pitches,” Bochy said.
It was easy to justify selecting Bumgarner as an All-Star, and catcher Buster Posey was chosen as a reserve in the player vote, as expected. But Bochy’s selection of Marco Scutaro could raise eyebrows, and it’s understandable.
Scutaro is hitting .311, second among National League second basemen, but he has just 19 RBI in 73 games and has committed nine errors, second-most among N.L. second basemen.
It leaves Bochy open to criticism that he might have abused his privileges as the N.L. All-Star manager and snuck in one of his own players with questionable credentials.
Bochy was up-front in saying part of his justification in picking Scutaro was to reward him for his tremendous second-half performance last year. Scutaro was one of the hottest hitters in the National League after coming over in a trade from Colorado, then was named the National League Championship Series M.V.P.
It’s the first All-Star berth for Scutaro, 37, and Bochy firmly believes the second baseman’s play this year also was deserving.
“A (benefit) of managing the All-Star Game is you get some say in who you take,” Bochy said. “You reward guys who help you accomplish what you did last year. We don’t win the World Series without him. To me, it’s a no-brainer.
“He’s had a good first half. He’s hitting over .300. He earned it from his play, I think, with what he’s done here in the first half. But I think if it’s a call between he and another player, sure, I’m gonna look at what he’s done for us the year before.”
Scutaro said being an All-Star means a lot to him.
“It’s been 10 years in the big leagues. I’ve never been there,” he said. “I feel like I’m kind of at the end of my career. To get to live that experience is special.”
As for Bumgarner, he did let his All-Star secret slip to one person – his wife Ali.
“It’s a huge honor,” the lefty said. “I’m very thankful to ‘Boch’ for doing that. I’m just excited and blessed to be a part of it.”