GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Madison Bumgarner insisted throughout the spring of 2015 that his arm felt no ill effects from his historic 2014 run, and then he spent an entire season proving any lingering doubters wrong.
This spring, Bumgarner has had an extra month of rest. Does he feel even better?
“Man,” Bumgarner said shrugging, “I can’t tell the difference.”
Bumgarner is the same Bumgarner as ever, as he proved in his second inning of the spring. He struck out Scott Schebler and Yorman Rodriguez before getting Brandon Allen to swing over a wicked two-strike curveball. Bumgarner said he “felt good, really good,” in his 2016 debut.
“The fastball was good, the command was good,” he said. “Everything felt really good expect the cutter, but I’m not worried about that. It shouldn’t take much to get that going.”
[PAVLOVIC: Cueto scratched from Giants' Saturday game]
For years Bumgarner has come into camp with a stated goal. A few springs back he wanted to get better at preventing stolen bases, and he’s now one of the best in the National League. The next spring he said he needed to be better at the plate, and he’s turned into such a threat that manager Bruce Bochy uses him as a pinch-hitter.
Bumgarner came to camp last spring and said he wanted to command the ball to both sides of the plate. He had always had an easier time going glove-side (one of the reasons Giants scouts loved him in high school was his ability to go inside on right-handers) but he never felt quite as comfortable arm-side. That changed in the run-up to the 2014 postseason.
“Something kinda clicked,” Bumgarner said. “Now I feel it’s pretty even.”
Bumgarner felt he peppered both sides of the plate equally last year as he went 18-9 with a 2.93 ERA and 234 strikeouts. This spring's adjustment may have nothing to do with Bumgarner himself. Every single one of Bumgarner’s 3,312 pitches last season were thrown to Buster Posey, but the Giants know it won’t always line up that way.
Posey was off Friday because he had wanted to catch Jeff Samardzija (Wednesday's starter) and Johnny Cueto (a late scratch from Saturday’s game), so Bumgarner threw to Trevor Brown, a candidate to make the team as the backup or third catcher. Brown has a good reputation as a game-caller and pitch-framer, and Bumgarner didn’t have any qualms in two innings. He gave up a solo homer but said that was a location issue.
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“Obviously the first time you’re always getting a feel for each other,” Bumgarner said. “It’d be good (to work together during spring training) for no other reason expect for saving the trouble of having to shake (during the regular season). He’s got a pretty good idea of what to do.”
HEALTH UPDATES: Here’s the latest on Cueto. Also, Hunter Pence is said to be a bit ahead of schedule and close to playing in a game.
POSITION BATTLES: Gorkys Hernandez helped his cause a bit, hitting a grounder to deep short with one out and a runner on third. That one tied the game. Ehire Adrianza hit a go-ahead two-run single in the sixth and also played some first base, which is a touch of versatility that can’t hurt.
FAMILIAR FACE: Adam Duvall, traded away in the Mike Leake deal, hit cleanup for the Reds today. He was about the only recognizable name in the lineup. Teams are supposed to have three or four regulars in every lineup but so far the Giants haven’t faced anyone resembling a star. They saw the Angels without Trout and Pujols, the Brewers without Braun and Lucroy, and now the Reds without Votto, Bruce and Phillips. It’s possible that spring training is too long.
NOTEWORTHY: Ian Gardeck, a right-handed reliever who struck out 104 in 86 innings for San Jose last year, struck out the first two batters he faced Friday … Jake Smith and Kyle Crick had scoreless innings, but Steven Okert struggled, allowing two runs on three hits … Chris Heston pitched two scoreless innings of relief. He plunked Eugenio Suarez, who had earlier homered off Bumgarner.