OAKLAND — Never in his career had San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner walked more than five batters in a game. Never had he walked in a run with the bases loaded. Never, in his last 89 starts, had he failed to complete five innings.
All of those streaks ended on Saturday for the former World Series MVP in a 4-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics. When asked if he was concerned about his loss of command on Saturday, he snapped: “No. Are you?”
Bumgarner — owner of 107 wins, 1,523 strikeouts and a career 4.24 strikeouts-to-walks ratio — threw 92 pitches, 47 of them for strikes, and walked a career-high six, while walking in two runs before recording an out in the fifth inning against Oakland — arguably the worst start of his decorated career.
Manager Bruce Bochy admitted it was fair to say that it was as out-of-whack as he’s ever seen his ace, who had walked as many as five batters in a game only four times in his career, dating back to 2009.
Bumgarner long ago surpassed Juan Marichal’s streak of 72 straight starts of five innings or more, and his 89-game streak of throwing at least five complete innings was the longest such active streak in the majors. The last time Bumgarner failed to go at least five innings, he gave up five earned runs on 10 hits against the San Diego Padres on April 11, 2015, and even then, he didn’t walk a batter.
On Saturday, he got only 10 swing-and-miss strikes, and four came on his curveball, which he threw 24 times. The A’s fouled off 17 pitches. Despite that, Oakland, Bumgarner said, did not grind him down.
“No. I just didn’t throw strikes. That’s it,” he said. “I’m trying to get ahead, trying to throw strikes and put guys away fast. I just couldn’t do it there in the fifth. I don’t think it had anything to do with them. I’m not trying to take anything away from them, but we got to throw strikes. I got to put the ball over the plate.”
Over the first four innings, Bumgarner struggled a bit with his command, going to five three-ball counts. Then, in the fifth, he dealt a four-pitch leadoff walk to Matt Olson, and allowed a pop-fly single by Matt Chapman that fell between Alen Hanson and Andrew McCutchen in shallow right (the first of two such hits by Chapman). He walked Chad Pinder on eight pitches and then issued a six-pitch free pass to Josh Phegley, tying the game at 1-1 after a Brandon Belt fourth-inning solo home run.
Then, he put Marcus Semien on after an eight-pitch battle, bringing home another run, and signaling the end of his evening after a 28-pitch frame.
“First four innings was cruising pretty much,” Bumgarner said. “Then in the fifth, just couldn’t find the zone. I was trying to throw strikes, I wasn’t trying to pitch to corners. Just was one of those times where I couldn’t do it, I guess. I didn’t do it. Weird situation, you just kind of lose your feel for a minute and let the inning get away from you.”
Sam Dyson came on and got a clutch double play started by Brandon Crawford, and while that scored a run, it helped clear the decks. He issued a walk to Jed Lowrie before getting Khris Davis to ground out to third to stop the bleeding.
“I don’t know if that’s ever happened to him,” Bochy said of Bumgarner. “He ran a lot of deep counts and the walks caught up to him. He started that inning with a walk and then a blooper that fell, and had trouble making his pitches. That’s unlike Bum but it happens occasionally. Dyson came in and kept it close for us. That was huge.”
While the Giants ended up tying the game with a bizarre ninth-inning rally against one of the best closers in the game, the performance by Bumgarner has to be concerning.
On the night, Bumgarner went to three-ball counts on nine hitters, and though one could argue that he was squeezed a bit in the fifth, it was far from vintage Bumgarner. In fact, since returning from a broken finger, the left-hander has been, by turns, spectacular and very, very human.
In his first outing back, he allowed two runs on eight hits in six innings, striking out three. He couldn’t get out of the sixth in his next start, allowing four runs and striking out three. After a pedestrian outing in a 3-1 loss to the Dodgers, he finally looked like 2014 Bumgarner again, fanning eight in eight innings against the San Diego Padres a month ago. Then, he shut out the Colorado Rockies over seven innings on June 27, with another eight Ks.
Over his last four starts, though, he’s given up 20 hits, 10 earned runs and 14 walks in 21 1/3 innings. That’s a 4.21 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP for a pitcher with a career 3.01 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
Bumgarner was vehement in his insistence that there was nothing wrong with his delivery.
“No, it wasn’t mechanical,” he said. “Like I said, I just lost a feel there in the fifth. Just couldn’t throw strikes.”
Bumgarner’s issues have not been consistent. Over his previous three starts, he’d only walked eight — not outside of his career norms. He only allowed two hits to the A’s on Saturday in four innings, as opposed to the 18 he’d allowed over his last three starts.
As Bumgarner said, it was just weird. For the Giants, when it comes to a 28-year old starter with 1,558 1/3 innings on his arm, ‘weird’ should be worrying.
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