Just go be yourself, D-backs pitching coach Matt Herges told the veteran left-hander. You’re Madison Bumgarner. Forget the analytics, the pitch grips and the shape of your pitches. Just go be Madison Bumgarner and compete out there.
Bumgarner appeared to do just that Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, allowing only one run over five innings as the D-backs salvaged a split of the four-game series with a 5-2 win.
Since signing with the D-backs last year, Bumgarner has struggled and tried a number of ways to snap out of it — including working on a Johnny Cueto-like quick-pitch delivery this spring, and looking at all the analytics, such as spin rates.
“Right now, we’re going to put the analytics aside and worry about execution,” Herges told reporters last week about his between-start message to Bumgarner. “We’ll handle the scouting reports, we’ll handle how your pitchers are behaving, we’ll keep a close eye on that. But you, Bum, you’re going to focus on executing your pitches.”
D-backs manager Torey Lovullo pulled him after 80 pitches, even though he knew Bumgarner could have gone longer. He wanted to make sure it was a positive building block for him to take into his next start.
“A lot of people [are] trying hard, including me, to get things going the way that we know they can and the way they should be going,” Lovullo said. “So [it was] nice to see that kind of turnaround. I don’t feel like we’re by no means there, but it’s nice to see a transition to the way that I want it to go.”
After his last start, a defeat at the hands of the A’s, Bumgarner was sitting at 0-2 with an 11.20 ERA, and his body language, along with his words postgame, dripped with frustration and raw emotion.
On Sunday, the pitcher whose postseason dominance helped lead the Giants to three World Series titles, looked like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
“He’s a tough man,” Lovullo said. “He was very vulnerable with you guys [after his last start], and you guys saw that. He got on it and simplified it, and went out and executed and won a baseball game. I’m really proud of him for that, because nobody knows what he’s walking through. He put San Francisco on his shoulders for several years. And now those are his expectations, and he was having trouble getting there, we know that. But when we see outings like this today, we know what he’s capable of doing, and I’m really proud of him.”
Bumgarner’s velocity on his cut fastball was up a tick, and the shape of it was a little sharper, so there was a physical component to the change, but it was more about the mental approach.
“There’s a lot of little stuff that goes on inside our heads and obviously, I’d like to keep a lot of it to myself,” Bumgarner said. “I’m going to probably choose to do that for now. Maybe down the road, I’ll divulge a little more of it, but that was a key driver, I think — the mental side and kind of how we went about it.”