SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — His orange Giants hat had been replaced by a black one, this with the “4440” on the front, a model number of John Deere tractors. Madison Bumgarner, heading toward his 30th birthday, remains the country boy from North Carolina.
And also remains San Francisco’s No. 1 pitcher. Assuming he is not traded. Which one assumes he shouldn’t be.
Then again, he’s been in the majors nearly a decade. And had a rough couple of years because of injuries. And as we know, nothing in baseball ever should be assumed except that three strikes is an out.
On a hazy Sunday afternoon when the temperature at game’s start was a tepid 58 degrees, Bumgarner made his first start since the end of last season. It was awful if you looked at some numbers. It was brilliant if you checked something else, Bumgarner’s self-analysis.
This is spring training, in which the games don’t count, although it would be difficult to prove from the reactions of the 9,277 spectators at Scottsdale Stadium — maybe a third of whom were happily rooting for the Chicago Cubs in their 9-5 win.
Bumgarner threw 37 pitches and gave up six runs in one inning plus, an earned run average of, oh my gosh, 54. But in a tidy first inning, he needed only eight pitches. So let’s cut to the chase.
When asked if he feels he’ll be ready to compete on opening day and be the best again, without hesitation Bumgarner said yes. “Because,” he pointed out, “I don’t have a sore shoulder and a broken hand.”
Bad memories. Bad times. Early in the 2017 season, while the Giants were in a series at Colorado, Bumgarner rode on and subsequently fell off a dirt bike along a mountain trail. That was in April. He missed three months with the sprained shoulder and bruised ribs.
Then virtually a year later, in the Giants’ final exhibition game of 2018, Bumgarner was hit on his pitching hand by a line drive. He announced immediately the hand was fractured. He was right. And he didn’t come back until the beginning of June.
So, Sunday was his first time pitching in an exhibition since March 23, 2018. He survived. In a way, he triumphed. He walked away healthy and happy. He didn’t like giving up all those runs, even if Giants manager Bruce Bochy described them — coming on walks with the bases loaded or infield hits — as “one of those Cactus League innings.”
Still, there was elation in Bochy’s voice. He has described the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Bumgarner as a “horse,” the guy with the mental and physical toughness to carry the Giants when they stumble.
“I was real happy with his stuff,” said Bochy. “He was really sharp. Got ahead of the hitters with two-strike counts. All those runs came on a couple of plays we didn’t make.”
Including Bumgarner covering first quickly enough on a ground ball. But, hey, that’s why there’s spring training, to work on the basics. Right?
Bumgarner, normally not one to get too emotional except after World Series victories, said he was excited by the way he pitched. Even for the great ones, there’s always a question how things will go after the offseason layoff.
“You’re curious how you will feel,” said Bumgarner. “It is weird to say, but the score is not a concern. I bounced back after the first inning. It would be nice to have better results, but I don’t care about (that part) of spring.”
In that difficult second, Bumgarner hit Chicago’s David Bote with a fast ball. Bote went down hard and left the game. Bumgarner who came to the plate to check on Bote’s condition, said he was sorry about the pitch but that he is able to compartmentalize, so it had no effect on his subsequent throws.
“Command in the zone could be a little better,” Bumgarner said. “It’s going to get better as we go here, but for the first day, I felt good.”
Which is all a pitcher can hope.