If the Giants’ rotation stays the same the rest of the season, Madison Bumgarner should make four of his remaining eight starts at home including a Sept. 12 start against the Dodgers and the regular-season finale against the Padres – at which point the Giants would like to be doing more than just playing out the schedule.
In that case, the Giants and their big left-hander must hope Friday night’s 5-3, 10-inning loss to the Philadelphia Phillies was a step toward addressing what has been among the more baffling aspects of this 2014 season – Bumgarner’s performance, or lack thereof, when pitching at AT&T Park.
Bumgarner entered Friday with a 5.60 ERA at home – the third-highest among qualified National League starters – and two months removed from his last quality start in home whites. He lowered the ERA by nearly half a run by allowing only a Marlon Byrd home run in seven innings against the Phillies while striking out nine and walking none.
It matched Bumgarner’s best start at AT&T Park this season, his May 25 outing against Minnesota, but did not improve his 4-6 home record. Bumgarner was replaced after 110 pitches in the eighth by Jeremy Affeldt, who quickly surrendered a game-tying, two-run homer to Cody Asche.
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It was the first homer Affeldt has allowed all year and his first to a left-hander since April 24, 2011, when the Braves’ Jason Heyward took him deep.
Manager Bruce Bochy has been asked repeatedly about Bumgarner’s struggles at home this year, which before Friday included opponents hitting more than 100 points better off him at AT&T Park (.309) than in their own stadiums (.206), and acknowledged being as perplexed as anybody.
"No question it's disheartening,” Bochy said. “Bumgarner threw great. We had our chances to add on - that's what caught up with us. This was a tough one and we've had a lot of them here at home. Wish I could tell you why.”
Bumgarner, who’s 9-3 with a 1.72 ERA on the road this year, does have slightly better numbers over his career on the road (a 2.95 ERA and opponents’ OPS of .643 entering Friday) than at home (3.30 ERA, .675 OPS), but nothing that would explain the kind of dramatic splits he’s exhibiting in his fifth big-league season.
Ideally, then, Friday marked a regression toward normal. Facing a Phillies lineup that featured five left-handed hitters, Bumgarner struck out five of the first eight batters he faced, retired the first 10 and did not allow a runner past second until Byrd’s home run leading off the fifth.
The Phillies put two on in the fourth when Jimmy Rollins’ flare to right bounced out of Joe Panik’s glove and Chase Utley’s soft fly to left landed in front of Michael Morse. But with cleanup hitter Ryan Howard up, Bumgarner caught Rollins breaking early for third base – a call upheld after a Phillies challenge – and struck Howard out swinging on a 93 mile per hour fastball to end the inning.
Aside from the fifth, it was the only inning in which the Phillies had a baserunner against Bumgarner, whose outing was especially timely given the Giants faced one of the N.L.’s hottest pitchers in Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels. Hamels entered with a 0.73 ERA in his last five starts and, for the first three innings, matched Bumgarner zero for zero.
Hamels allowed a leadoff single to Pablo Sandoval in the second and Morse followed by driving a ball to deep-right center that Hamels reacted to with a frustrated jerk of his head – only to see Byrd catch it in front of the warning track. Hamels grinned as Byrd threw the ball back in, but he was not so fortunate in Morse’s next at-bat.
After Buster Posey and Sandoval began the fourth with a single and ground-rule double, Morse crushed a 2-1 pitch into the seats in left-center to give the Giants a 3-0 lead. It was Morse’s 16th home run of the season, but just his third in his last 57 games since June 6.
The Giants’ inability to capitalize on myriad other opportunities, though, helped cost Bumgarner a win. They put runners on in each of the first seven innings against Hamels, including their leadoff hitter four times, but could not drive them in outside of the fourth.
A squeeze attempt in the sixth failed as Brandon Crawford bunted right back to Hamels, who tagged Gregor Blanco out between third and home. Angel Pagan led off the seventh with a double, but was caught by Hamels trying to steal third. Sandoval led off the eighth with a single off reliever Ken Giles and was on second when Panik singled with two outs. But Byrd unleashed a throw from right that beat Sandoval to the plate by about 30 feet.
Belt update – Before the game, Bochy said that first baseman Brandon Belt is scheduled to visit concussion specialist Dr. Michael Collins in Pittsburgh next week as he continues to experience symptoms. Belt will fly to Pittsburgh when the Giants leave for Chicago at the end of this homestand.
Belt, who is on the DL for the second time as a result of a concussion sustained July 19, had an MRI on Wednesday. “He’s about the same,” Bochy said. “So we think it’s important that we get another look at him, another opinion.”