Madison Bumgarner has never been one to obsessively watch film or study opponents before a start. He prefers to read hitters in the box, see where they place their hands and their feet, and how they attack his cutter as it bores in on their hands.
He did the same thing Saturday night in his return to Oracle Park, which was not nearly as familiar as it would have been in years past. After a 4-3 loss to the Giants, Bumgarner talked of trying to work through matchups with Darin Ruf, who he had last faced with the Philadelphia Phillies years ago, before Ruf went to South Korea. He spoke of reading the swing of Daniel Robertson, a former Tampa Bay Ray who joined the Giants earlier in the week. And then he caught himself.
“I hadn’t faced pretty much any of them, I think,” Bumgarner said.
This was a new experience all the way around, and along with the newcomers, Bumgarner found himself trying to figure out what to throw longtime teammate and friend Brandon Belt, and Joey Bart, a rising star who caught Bumgarner’s first bullpen session last spring.
There weren’t nearly as many total matchups as Bumgarner had hoped. In his first start off the Injured List, Bumgarner was limited to 72 pitches, which got him through just four innings. He gave up two runs on back-to-back homers from Evan Longoria and Ruf, but he said he was content overall. This was a step forward from his first four starts for the Diamondbacks.
“I’m pretty happy with it,” Bumgarner said. “I’m going to throw — need to throw — more than four innings, but where we’re at and where we were coming from, that’s kind of what we had there today to go with. I feel pretty good about it.”
The early hook meant Bumgarner got just two matchups with Bart, who might have become one of his more trusted teammates in an alternative universe. When Bart showed up to his first big league camp last spring, Bumgarner walked up to him on the first day of bullpen sessions and pointed to the first mound.
“Let’s go on No. 1,” he said.
That could have been the start of a long working relationship. Bumgarner wanted to help break the top prospect in, but 10 months later, the Diamondbacks came with the best offer. Bumgarner and Bart have similar personalities on the field — embracing winning above all else — but they’ll now be opponents for as long as Bumgarner is a Diamondback.
Bumgarner had his way in their first two matchups. In the second inning, he got ahead by throwing a fastball in on Bart’s hands, then put him away with an elevated fastball. Two innings later, Bumgarner did what he has done for over a decade, throwing his cutter in on a right-hander and getting Bart to ground out softly with two on.
Bart said his first night facing Bumgarner was “a little uncomfortable.”
“It was just weird. I have no other way to explain it,” he said, smiling. “Obviously he throws from a different arm slot. That might have been a little weird. I might have been a little amped up to face him. He’s very good. Facing Madison Bumgarner is never going to be an easy at-bat. Obviously everyone knows that.”
Bart, who later hit a triple to provide a crucial insurance run, said the overall experience was pretty cool. He lamented the fact that he won’t ever get to face the old version of Bumgarner who threw in the mid 90s, noting that “would have been even more uncomfortable.”
Bumgarner was mostly around 89 mph on this night, which has been the norm for him this year. He didn’t have enough in his tank to dominate his old teammates, and the Giants scored the two early runs and held on for a needed victory.
Bumgarner headed to the visiting clubhouse after the fourth, and before that, there were no signs that he was feeling the nostalgia. This isn’t the year for that. Bumgarner said he tried to keep the focus off of what this meant beyond just being a baseball game, his first in nearly a month.
“I still feel like I would have done that if people are allowed to come to the games, but no doubt it would have been harder,” he said. “That is my objective, to go out there that way.”