AT&T PARK — Manuel Margot was responsible for the only two hard-hit balls San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner allowed on Thursday night.
The San Diego Padres center fielder — hitting seventh in one of the least productive lineups in baseball — ripped a double down the third base line in the third inning. He knocked an opposite-field double in the fifth.
Other than that, Bumgarner was brilliant, out-dueling Cal product Tyson Ross to claim a 3-0 victory — his first win of the season in his fourth start back from a broken hand. His performance lifted San Francisco back to the .500 mark, and the Giants now trail the Arizona Diamondbacks by four games in the NL West.
“It was the Madison we know,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “He really hit his spots, had great focus out there and had all his pitches going. It was the type of game we’ve seen so many times from him. And we needed it, because [Ross] pitched well too.”
Such a palatable place in the playoff picture at this point in the season is rather incredible given the time the team’s top three starters have spent on the disabled list. Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija have combined to start just 17 of 76 games this year, a 22 percent clip that pales in comparison to the 46 percent they accounted for last season or the 60 percent the year before that.
Bumgarner’s final line — eight innings, eight strikeouts and no runs allowed — offered the team promise that its ace was finally back to form, a potentially crucial development regardless of how well the back-end starters have done to keep the rotation afloat in recent weeks. The Giants know they need Bumgarner pitching deep into games to reach October.
“These guys look up to him and he’s a leader,” Bochy said. “That’s going to make [the other pitchers] better I think.”
While he doesn’t take much stock in pregame bullpen sessions, he said he “could tell the stuff was picking up a little” before this start. On a night when his cutter was cutting and his curveball slicing down and out of the zone, little assistance was necessary, and he didn’t get much.
The Giants’ go-ahead run came via a Bumgarner sacrifice fly in the fifth inning. Ross went seven innings and allowed one run, keeping the Giants from a big inning despite the return to the lineup of catcher Buster Posey and right fielder Andrew McCutchen, who were each off Wednesday.
San Francisco added to its tally in the eighth when Posey drove in Alen Hanson — aboard on a leadoff triple — and Padres second baseman Jose Pirela dropped a two-out Pablo Sandoval pop up.
Despite the low-scoring affair, Bumgarner seemed pleased with his teammates after the game. He praised right fielder McCutchen and Joe Panik for turning Margot’s second hard hit ball of the game — a double to right — into an out at the plate. Their throws gave Posey plenty of time to tag out Pirela, who ran through a stop sign at third.
Stationed behind Posey to provide backup for the throw home, Bumgarner paused before sauntering back to the mound. He stuck his glove up and gave Posey a high-five.
After so many early season setbacks, it was that kind of day for the southpaw.
“It feels like everything is improving,” Bumgarner said. “I’m kind of getting back into the swing of things.”