By JAY LeBLANC
When back pain prevented reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum from making a crucial start for the Wild Card-contending San Francisco Giants on Tuesday night, they were fortunate enough to have another freak on speed-dial. Madison Bumgarner’s delivery wouldn’t be classified as aero-dynamic and, unlike Lincecum, his lean 6-foot-4 frame appears made to generate mid-90s heat, but the 20-year-old has dominated hitters in a similar fashion since the Giants made him the 10th overall pick in the 2007 draft. Bumgarner was summoned from the minors Tuesday afternoon and did a fair enough Lincecum impression hours later, allowing two runs on five hits and fanning four in 5 1/3 innings, but was left with a no-decision as the Giants fell to the San Diego Padres.
Bumgarner has put up video game numbers during his remarkably swift rise up the minor league ladder. The precocious North Carolina native went 15-3 with a 1.46 ERA in leading Class A Augusta to the South Atlantic League title in his pro debut in 2008 and followed that up with a 12-2 record and 1.85 ERA this season while splitting time between advanced Class A San Jose and Double-A Connecticut. All told, Bumgarner went 27-5 with a 1.65 ERA and 256-to-55 K-to-walk ratio in 273 innings at three levels on his road to San Francisco while picking up a slew of honors along the way. In recent memory, only the Baltimore Orioles‘ Brian Matusz (11-2, 1.91 ERA in 19 starts) and Lincecum (6-0, 1.01 ERA in 13 starts) have so thoroughly baffled minor league hitters.
I had the chance to speak with Bumgarner in late July when he and his Connecticut Defenders teammates were in Bowie, Md., for a series against the Orioles-affiliated Bowie Baysox, and he provided some insight into the approach that has made him so successful thus far as a pro.
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I just throw a fastball, a slider, a curveball and changeup. Right now I’m just getting comfortable throwing them in any count. I’m trying to do that and trying to remember what I do to the hitters - you can’t get caught up in a pattern and throw the same thing to each guy every time he comes up. So I’m just trying to mix it up.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout guy, a guy who pitches to contact, or some mixture of the two?
A: Probably a mixture. Some games I can just go out there and throw a lot of fastballs, and guys will get themselves out. Some games I have to try to strike them out more, if they’re putting a lot of good swings on ‘em. It just depends on the situation, I guess.
Q: What are some of the things you do off the field to help prepare you to succeed on it?
A: A lot of running and stuff. You’ve got to work hard and stay mentally strong and work on all your pitches in between starts and just have confidence in them when you go out there.
Q: What are some of the things you still need to work on in order to be a successful big league pitcher?
A: Probably everything. I’ve still got a lot of stuff to learn - throwing all my pitches for strikes, learning how to pitch and everything you can think of.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: I get asked that question quite a bit, but I can’t really think of anybody right off the bat. I’ve thought about it a little bit, and I don’t really know anybody that I feel like I look like.
Q: What did you learn by being around guys like Randy Johnson, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain during spring training?
A: Not as much as I would have liked to. I didn’t get to hang out with them that much; I just went up there three times. I had a lot of fun but I didn’t really get to watch them. I just went there right before the games, so I didn’t really get to do anything but sit in the clubhouse and go get ready. I didn’t get to watch them pitch or anything either, so not as much as I would have liked to.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Giants?
A: Whenever they think I’m ready. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully it’ll be this year; if not, then just whenever they think I’m ready. They know a lot better than I do, and they’ve been doing it a lot longer than I have. I’m just going to continue working hard and trying to get better each start here, and we’ll see what happens.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photos by The Associated Press
Click here to view the original Madison Bumgarner National Pastime Prospect Q&A