MLB: Bumgarner trying to lock up No. 5 spot in rotation
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — This is supposed to be a joyous occasion for Madison Bumgarner.
Many around the San Francisco Giants’ camp say the fifth spot in the starting rotation is his to lose. The 20-year-old left-hander is due to follow starter Tim Lincecum in Wednesday’s spring opener against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria.
But he will be pitching with his family on his mind after the death last week of his half-sister, Dena Byrd, in North Carolina. He left the team to attend the funeral on Sunday, returned to camp Monday morning and went right to work, throwing a bullpen session.
Bumgarner is steadfast in his vow to maintain his focus. He still has a job to do.
“I feel good about the chance to pitch in that first game,” he said. “I know I still have to go out and earn the job. I’m not guaranteed anything. All I can do is ask for a shot, and I have it. I just want to do whatever I can to help us win.”
Since hearing his name called as the tenth overall pick by the Giants in the 2007 draft, Bumgarner has had a meteoric rise through the minor leagues. He has a 27-5 record, a 1.65 earned-run average and 256 strikeouts in 273 innings, starting 48 of his 49 games.
He was called up to the big club in September and made his debut on Sept. 8 against the San Diego Padres.
Lincecum was to start the game, but back spasms caused the medical staff to remove him. Bumgarner was told about three hours before game time that he would be the replacement. He became the youngest pitcher since the franchise moved from New York in 1958 to start in his major-league debut.
Bumgarner gave up a pair of solo home runs, but was not tagged with the loss. He went on to appear in three other games, finishing with 10 strikeouts in 10 innings
Getting a taste of what the majors are all about “makes you work that much harder to stay there. I don’t want to go back to the minor leagues,” Bumgarner said.
He took a bit of time off after the season and started throwing again during Christmas week. This spring, he has worked on his slider, change-up and getting better location with his fastball. He often asks pitching coach Dave Righetti, a former left-hander, for advice.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy is eager to see more of what Bumgarner has to offer.
“When we called him up in September, he handled everything we threw at him,” Bochy said. “He started a game he had no idea he was starting and dealt with that great. He threw out of the bullpen, threw the ball well. You have to like his make-up and his stuff. At his age, he has a good game.”
NOTES: After hitting .294 in 50 games as the Giants’ leadoff hitter in 2009, center fielder Aaron Rowand is expected to be back in the top spot this spring and beyond. ... Left-hander Barry Zito is the likely choice to start Thursday’s spring home opener against Milwaukee, with right-hander Matt Cain going against a Colorado split squad on Friday.