The relationship between Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants was a fruitful one. Over 11 seasons, the battle-tested left-hander won 119 games, earned four All-Star selections and helped lead the Giants to three World Series championships.
Like all good things though, it had to end.
During the offseason, Bumgarner signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks. As we learned, Arizona has been a second home for Bumgarner. Or maybe a third home, if you count that he’s from North Carolina. But on Saturday, he returned to the one place baseball fans considered his primary home — Oracle Park in San Francisco — and for perhaps the first time this season, he looked at home on the pitching mound.
The outing was brief, but encouraging for a pitcher who had not faced live batters in nearly a month. Bumgarner had been sidelined since Aug. 9, when he was diagnosed with a mid-back sprain. In Saturday’s return, he pitched four innings, allowing two earned runs on second-inning back-to-back home runs by Evan Longoria and Darrin Ruf. He took the loss, too, as Arizona fell 4-3.
It wasn’t the bulldog outing we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Bumgarner. Particularly when he pitched in San Francisco. But it was arguably his best outing of the season. That gives Arizona something to build on.
Rough start to Bumgarner’s D-backs career
Prior to the IL stint, Bumgarner looked nothing like the ace Arizona hoped it was signing. In four winless starts, the 31-year-old veteran posted a 9.35 ERA over 17 1/3 innings. Even more troubling, Bumgarner’s velocity was down and his hard-hit rate rose to a staggering 42.4 percent, which is his highest rate since Statcast started tracking it in 2015.
Perhaps the time away will ultimately serve Bumgarner well. Then again, it’s not like there were no red flags before he signed the massive contract.
While durable for most of his Giants’ career, Bumgarner missed extensive time in 2017 and 2018 due to a myriad of injuries. Those include a sprained shoulder suffered in a dirt-bike accident. Though he returned to full health and appeared closer to his ace form in 2019, it was fair to wonder if the injuries and the extensive workload — which includes multiple deep postseason runs — might catch up to him.
We don’t have a definitive answer yet. The unique circumstances surrounding the 2020 season wouldn’t allow for one anyway. But how Bumgarner finishes the season will be an underrated storyline that could have a lasting impact on Arizona’s short-term and long-term plans.
Bumgarner not fazed by the moment
For some players, facing the team that drafted and developed them is an emotional experience.
For Madison Bumgarner, it was another day at the office.
“I'm a pretty easy going guy," Bumgarner said, courtesy of MLB.com. "Guys have been asking me if it's weird coming in on the other side. It's really not. But it's nice to be back and see a lot of the guys that I knew and played with and worked with, the staff over there. I was excited to come back here and see the city."
OK, well, he did admit he was excited about seeing the city. That counts for something.
But when it came to the Giants brief video tribute, he was not fazed.
The legend of Madison Bumgarner will live forever in San Francisco. Thanks, MadBum. pic.twitter.com/4PI7GjC6YM— SFGiants (@SFGiants) September 6, 2020
Having fans in the building would at least have forced Bumgarner to tip his cap.
This time around, it was all business.
There was plenty of motivation, too. For the first time in his career, it was Bumgarner’s job to spoil San Francisco’s postseason hopes, rather than fuel them. More importantly to Arizona, it was an opportunity for a fresh start in his new uniform.
If it took a return “home” for Bumgarner to get the ball rolling, we’re sure the Diamondbacks won’t complain.
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