Bumgarner gives Giants a performance for the ages

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Bumgarner gives Giants a performance for the ages

LOS ANGELES Dave Righetti slipped on his loafers as hedrifted into memories.

You dont see it very often, said the Giants pitchingcoach, after watching Madison Bumgarner outduel Clayton Kershaw in a 2-1victory Monday night.

Sabathia comes to mind from the last 10 years, and you haveyour Guidrys and Carltons, your Vida Blue.

Lefties always admire lefties, especially the rare powerguys. Those pitchers arent trying to trick you or nip at the corners or dowhat keeps left-handers in the game into their 40s. No, these pitchers come atyou straight on, tanks in a demolition derby, sawing off bats, throwingexplosive stuff, daring you to hit it if you can.

Thats what Kershaw did. Thats what Bumgarner did just abit better.

Watching both those guys on the mound was a treat, Giantsleft-hander Javier Lopez said. Of course, I dont think the hitters will tellyou that.

Actually

Special? Oh yeah, that was special, said Giants centerfielder Angel Pagan, who had two of the six hits off Kershaw and scored bothruns. Bumgarner threw an unbelievable game. And Kershaw, man, he threw amazingtoo. It was fun to watch.

It was a late-August game in a pennant race, and the winnerwould be guaranteed to end the day in first place.

But it was even more than that.

Know what that was? Righetti said. That was like one ofthose old NL matchups. Until they go out and perform, its just anotherGiants-Dodgers. Then they start pitching and it feels like something else.

Theyre the ones that made us remember. It was cool, realcool.

And Im glad we won.

The Giants have to keep winning this way. Sure, Melky Cabrera is still being spilled all over the tabloids and the offense will have to find a way around thatpsychological morass. Theyll have to score enough runs on a consistent basisto support their pitching staff.

But they must pitch to win. They might be capable of winning6-5, or even 8-3. But its more likely theyll have to win many more 2-1 gamesover the next six weeks. And when they come upon a Kershaw, the Giants willneed a performance to match.

Even though Tim Lincecum hasnt been Tim Lincecum, thebullpen is a committee and the pitching overall has lacked the dominance ofyears past, the Giants do seem to find the big performance when they need it.

Want proof? Kershaw is 1-3 against them this season.

Bumgarner had only faced Kershaw once before in his career.It was April 11 of last season, and the Dodgers bum-rushed him for five runs infive innings. Rod Barajas hit a two-run home run in a four-run fifth.

It was one loss amid an 0-6 beginning hes never forgotten.

This kid weve talked so much about him, Giants managerBruce Bochy said. Hes got such great poise, such great focus. His makeup isoff the charts. One of the moreimpressive years was when he got off to a rough start. A young guy can lose hisconfidence. But it never wavered with him.

Now Bumgarner is more focused than ever about finishing batters.With two strikes, hes got a killer instinct that wasnt always there in thepast. He bounces a slider where he used to try to paint a perfect one. Thatshow hes struck out the most batters in the NL (61) since the All-Star break.Thats how he put away Matt Kemp in the seventh to strand a runner at thirdbase.

That was a big strikeout for me just a big point of thatgame, said Bumgarner, who flexed like a pro wrestler as he walked off themound. I guess I had a little adrenaline.

Said Bochy: It gets back to the focus Im talking about.Hes really concentrating on making a good pitch and not dropping his guardwith two strikes.

All great power pitchers do more than burn out bulbs on the radar gun. They also are able to maintain their stuff tothe last pitch. Bumgarner did that, too. Bochy pushed him into the eighth andlet him throw 123 pitches the second most by a Giant this season (after MattCains 125 pitches in his perfect game June 13).

Bumgarner struck out his final two hitters.

Yeah, his stuff was great, Bochy said. He wasntlaboring. I checked on him. Hes a big, strong boy. Its probably tougher ifyou take him out, to be honest.

It's always a good idea to ask others about Bumgarner because he wontspare many words about himself. He spoke of making sure hes on his game withevery pitch, having a plan and not giving into guys. But his ultimate summaryof Monday's game came out like a bit of country wisdom:

You better pitch better if you want to win.

The last time against Kershaw, perhaps Bumgarner wasntequipped to match up against him. Hes a year older now. And since that 0-6 beginningin 2011, he is 27-14 with a 2.88 ERA in 50 starts.

Oh, and he is allowing 0.82 baserunners per inning since thebreak, too.

Last year I had a little bad luck, Bumgarner said. But Ibelieve you create your own luck, and I created bad luck by throwing pitchesthat were over the plate for guys to hit.

Its just making better pitches and learning how to pitchto different guys. Its knowing what to do with who Im facing. Its justpitching smarter.

Bumgarner has plenty of curve ahead in his learning. Hesonly 23, as of Aug. 1. Kershaw is 24.

There will be plenty more confrontations, plenty more tanksin the derby, plenty more opportunities to transform a pennant-race game into Instagram-coloredmemories.

Does Bumgarner look forward to that?

Well, he said, definitely.

Giants spring training Day 42: Blach still in the fifth starter mix

Giants spring training Day 42: Blach still in the fifth starter mix

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ty Blach is the young one in the race to be the fifth starter, but on Sunday he sounded like a veteran. Asked if he has gotten a hint one way or the other about his opening day role, Blach smiled.

“I’m just taking it day-by-day and trying to get better,” Blach said. “I’m enjoying the process and having fun.”

Smooth. 

Those days are adding up to a nice spring for Blach, the left-hander trying to unseat Matt Cain. While Bruce Bochy didn’t shed any additional light on the current lean, team officials hinted Sunday that this is not as open-and-shut as it seems. Matt Cain, who will start Tuesday, looked like a lock to be the fifth starter a week ago, but the Giants are considering all options because they have an off day during the first week and two more shortly thereafter. 

“We’ve had discussions every day,” Bochy said. “We’ve got some tough calls.”

The Giants are expected to announce their official rotation when they return home for the Bay Bridge Series. Whether he’s starting, long-relieving, or pitching in a completely new role, Blach has certainly done all he can to make sure he’s in the big leagues on April 2. He gave up two runs over six innings Sunday, walking one and striking out one while giving up seven hits. Blach has allowed 10 runs in 20 1/3 innings this spring, but four of those came when he was ambushed coming out of the bullpen one day.

“Wherever I’ll be, I know I’ll be in a good spot,” Blach said. “I’m just looking forward to getting the season rolling.

After pitching out of the bullpen most of the spring, Blach got his pitch count up to 85 on Sunday. 

“We’ve gotten him stretched out,” Bochy said. “That’s a solid, solid job. We’ve got guys stretched out where you want them. We’ve got some flexibility. We’ll see as we get close here which way we’ll go.”

POSITION BATTLES: The Giants will carry a backup for Denard Span, and for about a month it looked like Gorkys Hernandez would be that guy. But Hernandez has slumped so badly this spring that he went over the minor league facility Sunday to get a ton of extra at-bats, and Justin Ruggiano has emerged, reaching base in nine of his last 16 plate appearances. The plan a few days back was for Ruggiano to go to Sacramento and get 50 or so at-bats to see where he’s at, but this is another race that could change in the coming week. 

Cory Gearrin has done his part to hold off any charging relievers, throwing two sharp innings while going back-to-back for the first time this spring. 

FAMILIAR FACES: A rough day for a couple of longtime Giants. Ehire Adrianza and Gregor Blanco both have oblique injuries, hurting their odds of breaking with the Twins and Diamondbacks, respectively. Elsewhere, David Hernandez showed that he made a smart decision asking for his release. He was signed by the Braves. 

AROUND CAMP: Hunter Pence really does do all he can to make every single teammate feel welcome in the clubhouse. He spent some time with young right-hander Roberto Gomez on Sunday morning, learning a few Spanish phrases. When the players went out to warm up, Pence threw with Jae-Gyun Hwang. These are small gestures, but for the new guys, they matter. 

BARRY’S BACK: We all knew Barry Bonds would step into the cage at some point, and on a quiet Sunday morning, there he was. Bonds, 52, took about five or six easy hacks before crushing one out to deep right. He’s still got it. The other day, reporters asked Bonds if he could suit up in the WBC if asked. He said he can absolutely still hit, but he would need to DH and he would need a day or two off before games. Being a big league hitter is not easy, even if he always made it look that way.

 

Bonds dusts off swing, cracks home run during BP in Giants' camp

Bonds dusts off swing, cracks home run during BP in Giants' camp

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Giants knew Barry Bonds would step back into the box at some point. It happened Sunday, with Bonds taking a few cracks at BP pitches from Gary Davenport.

Bonds warmed up with a couple of lighter swings and then blasted a homer to deep right. That was enough, as the 52-year-old walked away with a big smile on his face. 

Bonds is in camp as a special instructor, and he still picks his spots to show off his legendary swing. When he was the Marlins' hitting coach last season, he beat slugger Giancarlo Stanton in an impromptu home run derby.