SAN FRANCISCO -- To outsiders, Madison Bumgarner might seem to be enduring either a mere slump or an outright decline. To the Giants, the 21-year-old is experiencing the adversity most young Major Leaguers must weather before they mature.Bumgarner's troubles continued Friday night. He matched the shortest start of his brief Giants career by lasting 2 2/3 innings in a 4-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Bumgarner (0-3) unraveled in the third inning, when he yielded all of Atlanta's runs. This was nothing like his previous outing against the Braves, whom he limited to two runs in six innings while receiving the decision in the Giants' Division Series-clinching Game 4 victory last Oct. 11. A noisy sellout crowd on the Giants' first Orange Friday of the season watched Bumgarner's ERA rise from 7.36 to 7.79. The left-hander has allowed 25 hits and 15 earned runs in 17 1/3 innings while walking 10 and striking out nine. Skeptics will say that Bumgarner's skills have been eroded by pitching 213 1/3 innings last season, exceeding his previous career high by an astronomical 71 2/3 innings. Manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti have maintained that if fatigue resulting from the extended 2010 campaign were to strike Bumgarner or any Giants pitcher, it would happen later in the season, not this early. Bochy maintained complete faith in Bumgarner.
"I'm not concerned about him," Bochy said. "He's had really good stuff. You have to remember where he's at. He's a young kid and he's probably pressing a little bit."Nothing obvious appears to be ailing Bumgarner, whose impressive performance as a rookie (7-6 with a 3.00 ERA) helped propel San Francisco to last year's postseason.
"I felt like I had some of the best stuff I've had since I've been here," he insisted. "I've got some bad luck right now, I guess."Partly, Bumgarner could be straddling the fine line between success and failure. Both walks he issued during Atlanta's uprising came on 3-2 pitches. Nate McLouth coaxed the first free pass after falling behind on the count 0-2.
"That kind of gets things rolling," Bochy said.
Bumgarner also was one strike away from ending the inning with just one run allowed when Chipper Jones ricocheted a 1-2 fastball off the right-field wall for a two-run double."It maybe could have been down but it wasn't too bad a pitch," Bumgarner said of the fateful delivery to Jones. "It was off the plate. We were trying to get away off the plate and he put a good swing on it, I guess." Said Jones, "You need to take advantage of every single opportunity against that club because they're coming at you nonstop for nine innings. If you give them a break, they're going to capitalize." Bumgarner also has realized that he must respond to hitters who learn his pitching style -- or, better yet, adapt before they do. He has been victimized by a big inning in each of his starts, reflecting opponents' increasing recognition of his traits. A three-run third at San Diego on April 5, a four-run fifth against Los Angeles on April 11 and a three-run second at Arizona last Sunday preceded his downfall against the Braves. Seeking a solution, Bumgarner sought advice from veterans Jeremy Affeldt and Matt Cain after leaving Friday's game. "One thing I wanted to encourage Bum with is that he's good; the league's making an adjustment to him and he's finding that out," Affeldt said. "Now he needs to make an adjustment back. The fact of the matter is, these are the best hitters in the world, so it's not going to come easily." But Affeldt's confident that Bumgarner will find enlightenment. "We all believe in him," Affeldt said. "We love him. He was part of our big run last year and he'll be fine. This team is going to get around him and help him. He's going to get a lot of encouragement, I'll tell you that." Bumgarner expressed gratitude for the support.
"Knowing that they went through the same thing ... nobody said it was easy," Bumgarner said. "These are the best hitters in the world we're facing. It's just a learning experience and growing pains, I guess."At the same time, Bumgarner doesn't want to overcompensate. "I don't want to start changing stuff that doesn't need to be changed," he said. "It's tough to deal with. I'm taking it day by day and trying to stay upbeat and keep the same confidence, but it's tough."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.