By Doug Bruzzone
Special to S.F. Examiner
AT&T PARK – In his last start against the Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner gave up four runs in the first inning, and ended up giving up seven in five innings in a 9-8 loss.
He wasn’t about to let history repeat itself.
On Saturday, Bumgarner threw six shutout innings, striking out two and giving up five hits and one walk in the Giants’ 3-0 win, before giving fans heart palpitations by exiting the game in the sixth inning after having thrown only 64 pitches.
Bumgarner, though, simply felt tightness in his right side, and with the Giants being out of the playoff race, the team decided not to take any chances.
“We expect him to make the next start,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “We were just being cautious with him.”
Outside of his early exit, Bumgarner was very effective, seemingly getting grounders at will. Twice, the Rockies threatened with runners on first and second and less than two outs. Twice, Bumgarner induced double play balls to Brandon Crawford. It wasn’t a deliberate strategy; he was just trying to make good pitches.
“My slider was better for sure,” Bumgarner said. “Command of everything was good, but if anything was different, I think my slider was much better.”
Bumgarner also brought AT&T Park to its feet with a long double to center field, over the head of Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon. Bumgarner, long one of the premier hitting pitchers in the National League, has had a tougher year at the plate than he’s used to, hitting .135 and slugging just .162 — the lowest marks he’s posted since 2013. His double, though, started a third-inning rally that ended when he came in to score San Francisco’s third run on a wild pitch.
Bumgarner started to notice the tightness in his side in his second at bat, but insisted it’s nothing serious.
“It feels fine. It’s probably as minor as it could be,” Bumgarner said. “They wanted to be cautious about it and I don’t blame them for that. I’m on board. With the situation we’re in, there’s no need to push something and make a big deal out of something that shouldn’t be.”
All of Bumgarner’s efforts would have been for naught, had the Giants not been able to score. They plated three runs on the night, which, considering the way their month has gone – they’d scored 28 runs in 12 games coming into the night – counts as an offensive explosion.
Most of their damage came in the second inning. Crawford led off the inning with a single past Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, and Nick Hundley followed him with a double to left field. With runners on second and third, Slater hit a hard RBI groundout up the middle, and Hunter Pence then blooped a single into shallow center field.
In the top of that third inning, Bumgarner hit D.J. LeMahieu with a fastball, and in the bottom of the third, Colorado starter German Marquez plunked Evan Longoria square in the back with a changeup. Both teams were issued warnings by home plate umpire Ramon DeJesus, though when Marquez hit Austin Slater in the helmet with a curveball in the sixth inning, no ejections were issued.
Bumgarner, for one, didn’t think that warnings should have been issued.
“There was definitely no intent from me. I was just trying to go in with a fastball and ended up hitting him,” he said. “You see the other guy get hit with, I don’t know if it was a slider or a changeup. I feel like [the umpires] gotta have a better feel for the game … If a guy throws 97, he’s not gonna try to hit somebody with a 96 mile per hour slider.”
The Giants bullpen made sure there was no further drama. Tony Watson struck out the side in a scoreless seventh inning, and Mark Melancon struck out two and navigated around a two-out Nolan Arenado double in the eighth inning. Melancon has allowed just two earned runs in his last 13 appearances, spanning 13 innings and dating back to Aug. 2.
“You look at his last few outings, stuff is really back to where he normally is. He even says he feels 100 percent now. He feels great,” Bochy said. “You can see the command, the stuff. It’s good to have him throwing the ball like he is here at the end of the season, so now we go into the offseason, he knows he’s over the arm issue.”
Longoria made a fantastic diving play on a Matt Holliday grounder to start the ninth inning off strong for closer Will Smith, and Smith appreciated it.
“It’s awesome,” Smith said. “Anytime you have a Gold Glover on the field, you feel a lot more comfortable, and we had three of them out there tonight.”
After an Ian Desmond single, Smith then got two fly outs to Gregor Blanco in right field to end the game, ending a dominating performance by the Giants bullpen, who pitched three innings, struck out five, and gave up just two baserunners.
“We take pride in it,” Smith said. “We pull for everybody once they go out there. We just want to put up a zero and hand it to the next guy.”
After two games in this series against the Rockies, the Giants (70-79) have snapped an 11-game losing streak, won their first two games of the month, and now they’ve thrown two shutouts to win their first series this month. It was the first time this season that the Rockies (81-67) have been shut out two games in a row, toppling from the top of the National League West.
But it’s health that looms large for San Francisco.
Giants first baseman Brandon Belt exited Friday’s game early, and had an MRI on his knee which showed no new damage. He is currently day to day. He did not play on Saturday.
For now, at least, San Francisco appear to have dodged a bullet with Bumgarner’s side. “Being healthy’s the most important thing,” Bumgarner said. “Individual stuff don’t interest me. Winning games interests me, and being able to be out there interests me. That’s what the number one thing is for me.”