Programming note: Giants Insider Andrew Baggarly is in Arizona; check back for his coverage throughout spring training and watch SportsNet Central nightly at 6 and 10:30 p.m. for all the day’s MLB news.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Even in February, Madison Bumgarner sneers at a lineup sheet with a designated hitter on it.
Bumgarner likes to swing the bat, if you didn’t know, and he was deprived of the pleasure in more ways than one Friday. Not only did the Giants use a DH for his first outing of the spring, but it was the first day that Giants pitchers took full cuts in the cage. Because Bumgarner was starting, he didn’t partake.
He plans to have his swing ready for the season, though. In fact, hitting prowess is a point of emphasis for all five starters after a year when they were, by their own admission, embarrassingly awful at the plate.
Not only did the Giants’ .096 average rank last among NL pitching staffs, but horror of horrors, five American League teams posted a better mark at the plate. Hard to imagine with Bumgarner and Matt Cain, but the Giants didn’t get a home run from their pitchers all season, either.
“We were terrible,” Bumgarner said. “I know it’s not what we’re asked to do, but we want to contribute however we can.”
Ryan Vogelsong agreed. A former shortstop at Kutztown State, he likes to think he can handle the bat. But he was 2 for 29 last season, and as he’ll tell you, the worst swing he took all year was on an inside pitch that crushed the pinky on his pitching hand.
“We knew how bad we were,” Vogelsong said. “(In 2012), it seems a lot of rallies started with us or went through us. In the playoffs, the pitchers were in the middle of everything.”
They want to be in on the action again. It might be a small help, but the pitchers are spending time playing pepper – a baseball tradition as old as seams on horse hide – on a back field this spring. It’s not just a game, either. It’s an organized activity on the schedule.
They aren’t setting any wagers on who’ll get the first homer or finish with the most hits.
“But we definitely rib each other pretty bad,” Vogelsong said. “So I think that’s plenty.”
Seems funny to say it now, but the Giants lost the best hitter on their staff when Barry Zito’s option was declined. He led the group with a .147 average, and third base coach Tim Flannery calls him one of the most efficient bunters he’s ever coached.
The Giants get a decent one in Zito’s replacement, though. Tim Hudson is a .170 career hitter, he’s gone deep at least once in three of the last five seasons and he famously drove in 95 runs to break Auburn's single-season RBI record previously held by some guy named Frank Thomas.
“Yeah, he did,” sniffed Bumgarner, “but this is not Auburn, OK?”
Bumgarner pointed out that he hit 15 home runs his senior year in high school.
"This," he said, "is a little harder.”