He hits, he runs, he scores. Madison Bumgarner can dance a little bit, too, as he demonstrated Thursday with a nifty sprint-and-spin move toward first base that beat Cubs catcher Kyle Schwarber to the bag.
Then there is that bionic left arm, the one that won the 2014 World Series. Bumgarner isn’t waiting around for another October. While his teammates have been limping to emergency rooms for MRIs and X-rays and physical therapy on assorted ailing body parts, the sturdy left-hander put his foot on the gas and drove one of his trucks right through the month of August.
If he isn’t the best pitcher in the National League right now, who is?
OK, an argument can be made for Zack Greinke, who went seven shutout innings earlier Thursday in the Dodgers’ victory over Cincinnati, improving his record to 14-3, dropping his ERA to 1.61 and keeping the pressure on both teammate Clayton Kershaw and their stubborn National League West rivals to the north.
The Giants have their flaws – and tons of injuries – but Bumgarner is doing his country best to position his club for one of those familiar finishes. Hours after Jake Peavy’s gritty effort, the World Series MVP limited the Chicago Cubs to two hits and one run, struck out 12 and left after six innings with a 5-1 lead.
By the time rookie Kelby Tomlinson drilled a grand slam for the 9-1 final, Bumgarner was in the clubhouse, icing his arm. If there was a time to catch a breather and exercise caution, this was it. September looms. October, perhaps.
“We’ve been riding him pretty hard this month,” manager Bruce Bochy said of his ace, “and he was close to 100 pitches (98), so we felt comfortable where we were in the bullpen, and that allowed us to give him a little break.”
So about the month of August. Bumgarner, who turned 26 on Aug. 1, was 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA. He has recorded 10 or more strikeouts in three of his last four starts and improved his overall record to 16-6.
Backup catcher Andrew Susac summarized Bumgarner’s four-month effort: no sense of panic, exudes confidence in the clubhouse and on the mound, has a four-pitch repertoire and relies heavily on his fastball but is using the cutter/slider more often on both sides of the plate.
“Most left-handers throw inside,” added Susac, “but he’s using the outside, too.”
Then there are Bumgarner’s other tools. His strength and hand/eye coordination make him a threat at the plate. He has accounted for two of the Giants’ last seven home runs and has prompted Bochy to occasionally use him as a pinch hitter. And he showed off both his athleticism and mobility with his third-inning putout of Schwarber – the play Bochy later mentioned as the defensive play of the day.
After moving to his right and fielding the grounder by Schwarber, first baseman Brandon Belt tossed the ball behind Bumgarner, who was running toward the bag. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder stretched and caught the throw, and in the same motion, whirled around and, without looking, stepped on the bag for the out.
“Obviously you have an idea (where the base is),” Bumgarner said. “You’re running there. But that was a tough one. I just put my foot where I thought (the bag) was. It’s not usually going to work like that, but I’m glad it did today.”
Almost as significant for the Giants is that Bumgarner made the play and walked away without breaking any bones or spraining an ankle. His effectiveness this month is particularly noteworthy given that his supporting cast seemingly changes by the day.
On Thursday, shortstop Brandon Crawford (side) and second baseman Joe Panik (lower back inflammation) were unavailable. Angel Pagan (knee tendinitis) and Hunter Pence (strained oblique) are at different stages of recovery. And there is no need to mention the ailing state of the starting pitchers, though Peavy’s outing Wednesday provided some relief, as has a bullpen depleted by Jeremy Affeldt’s latest freak injury.
Bumgarner was just what the doctor ordered.