Scuffling Bumgarner to get a 'break,' pitch in relief
Sharp out of bullpen, Lincecum tabbed to start Game 4; Zito gets Game 5 nod
ST. LOUIS -- Two years ago, Madison Bumgarner was the promising young arm in the San Francisco Giants rotation. The 21-year-old rookie responded to the challenge of a Game 4 start in the World Series at Texas by pitching eight shutout innings, setting up the victory the next night that put the finishing touches on the Giants' first championship since they moved from New York in 1958."Special," he said of the feelings at that time. Flash forward to Wednesday night at Busch Stadium, the Giants back in the postseason again, Bumgarner having built off that abbreviated rookie season to become a key figure in the team's regular-season rotation. Emphasis on regular season. With the Giants having lost two of the first three games in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series against St. Louis, and with Tim Lincecum giving signs he has regained his ability to dominate hitters in three postseason relief appearances, Bumgarner found himself the odd man out in the rotation.
In the aftermath of the Giants' 3-1 loss to the Cardinals in Game 3, manager Bruce Bochy confirmed what had been speculated: Lincecum will move into the rotation for Game 4 on Thursday.Then Bochy threw a curve. Barry Zito, who was in line for a Game 4 start, will instead start in Game 5. Bumgarner, who started Game 2 in the NL Division Series against Cincinnati and Game 1 in the NLCS against St. Louis, is moving to the bullpen. "It's time to give Madison a little break," said Bochy. The Giants need to win at least one of those games if they want to take the NLCS back to AT&T Park, where Game 6 and Game 7, if either is needed, would be played. Bumgarner is hoping he can be a part of making that happen, although this time, he will be in the bullpen, which isn't really familiar territory for him. When he made his September 2009 cameo appearance in the big leagues, three of his four appearances were out of the bullpen. However, the two-inning appearance as a reliever against Philadelphia in the 2010 NLCS is the only relief outing he has made in 85 appearances since his permanent promotion in late June 2010. "We are doing what is best for the team, and that's what this is all about, the team, not me or any individual," said Bumgarner. "I haven't been throwing that good. I'm working on some stuff. This point of the season, the concern is what gives us the best chance. "I am not mad or happy or anything. I am just looking for ways to help this team." So is Bochy. That's why the rotation adjustment was made. There could be a lineup adjustment or two, as well, in the aftermath of Wednesday's loss, when the Giants managed to score only one of the 14 players who reached base, leaving Matt Cain to soak up a loss despite a solid start in which his one mistake cost the Giants the game -- a hanging slider that Matt Carpenter turned into a two-run home run in the third. Bochy said that was something that would be discussed before making out the lineup on Thursday. The rotation change, however, is something that is a done deal. The key is the resurgence of late by Lincecum. The two-time Cy Young Award winner stumbled to a 10-15 record with a 5.18 ERA. He was the odd man out of the rotation at the start of the postseason. The Giants, however, did win five of his six September starts, then were encouraged with the dominating way he had come out of the bullpen in three games this postseason. He has allowed only one run in 8 1/3 innings, giving up three hits and one walk, showing the strike-throwing ability that had been so inconsistent. And Zito, who was left off the active roster for all three rounds of the 2010 postseason, simply slips back a game to get his second playoff start this year. This has been a year of resurgence for Zito. A bust in the first five years of his seven-year deal in San Francisco, he was 15-8 this year, which is three more wins and 10 fewer losses than the two previous seasons combined. More importantly, for the Giants, they won Zito's last 12 starters, including Game 4 at Cincinnati in the NLDS. Bumgarner, who was 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in four postseason appearances two years ago, is 0-2 in two starts this postseason, and has allowed 10 earned runs in eight innings. And that comes on the heels of a late-season slide in which he was 2-4 with a 5.89 ERA in his final seven starts. "He has been pitching a lot of innings, and we feel at this point, [it's better] going with Z, who's done a nice job for us,'' said Bochy. Bumgarner has seen his fastball lose a consistent 4 mph, and his command has been a bit erratic. He said he feels physically fine, but given the way most young pitchers are so carefully monitored nowadays, it is hard to ignore his workload the last three years. Counting the Minor Leagues, regular season and postseason in 2010, he worked 214 1/3 innings. He followed that up with 204 2/3 innings last year, and has already worked 216 1/3 innings this season. So maybe, as Bochy said, it is time to give Bumgarner "a little break," with the hope that Lincecum can provide the Giants with a very big lift.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.