SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Madison Bumgarner threw 27 pitches in the first inning and gave his catcher Buster Posey no chance on two stolen base attempts in the second that led to a Cleveland Indians run. That led Bruce Bochy to cut Bumgarner’s outing short and call on his son Brett Bochy to start the third.
Despite the brief outing that included just two first-pitch strikes to the ten batters he faced, Bumgarner still thinks he’s improving each time he takes the mound.
“So far it’s felt a little better each time out,” he said. “I’m fine with that right now. You don’t want to really peak until the end. We’re obviously trying to be at our best, but its not going to happen this early.”
In the first frame, Bumgarner gave up an infield single to Lou Marson and walked Cleveland’s clean-up hitter Nick Swisher, but punched out Ryan Raburn with a four-seam fastball to end a lengthy inning.
He kept the Indians off the board but his high pitch count took its toll in the second, when he gave up a leadoff single to Cord Phelps. After a fielder’s choice swapped Phelps for Ezequiel Carrera at first, Bumgarner didn’t keep an eye on the speedy outfielder and paid for it with two stolen bases. No. 9 hitter Luis Hernandez’s single scored Carrera before Bumgarner struck out Michael Bourn and hit the showers.
Bumgarner gave up one run in 1.2 innings on the first of the month against the Oakland Athletics and, at the time, explained that he was tinkering with a new two-seam fastball. This time out, Bumgarner simply blamed the Indians’ success against him on location mistakes.
“My command wasn’t quite as erratic, I was just up [in the zone],” Bumgarner said. “I was pitching from behind every time.”
Bumgarner also said there’s no question he has to get better at holding runners on and Bruce Bochy agreed. The big lefty allowed 28 baserunners to steal successfully against him last season, the fourth highest total in the big leagues and the most among southpaws.
However, both pitcher and manager maintained that this early in the spring there’s nothing to worry about.
“My main concern is just getting the arm in shape and getting ready,” Bumgarner said. “Maybe if I’m doing this with a week to go I might be getting a little concerned. But right now I feel good and I think the command will start coming in and getting a little better.”
“It’s a long spring; he’s got plenty of time to get locked in,” Bochy said. “He’s not there yet, but his arm strength is there. He’s just a little off with his command. He’s going to be fine, he’s just missing a little bit. That’s why it’s good spring training is a little longer to get these pitchers in shape and get them ready.”
Bochy’s five starting pitchers all prepared differently for Cactus League play. On one end of the spectrum is Barry Zito, who said he frequently pitched off a mound during the offseason. On the other end is Tim Lincecum, who said he didn’t toe the rubber until arriving in Scottsdale. Bumgarner said he treated this past offseason a little different from others, deciding only to long toss, but had his first bullpen session before Lincecum since he arrived in Arizona ahead of the Feb. 12 reporting date for pitchers and catchers.
“Usually I throw quite a few [offseason bullpen sessions] so I’d say that’s probably part of it too,” Bumgarner said. “I’m still getting everything zoned in. I think it’ll be fine. Command will come. We’re going to keep working. It’s not usually too good this time of spring anyway.”
As Dan Haren reportedly said today “In spring training, if you do good, you feel great. If you do bad, you’re just working on stuff.”
At this point, Bumgarner definitely falls into the latter category. But when you haven’t allowed a run in 15 career World Series innings, a little spring leeway is well within your rights.