'Mindset,' clarity keys to Bumgarner's surge

May 12th, 2021

PHOENIX -- threw seven shutout innings Tuesday night against the Marlins in an 11-3 D-backs win -- and the biggest takeaway was that the left-hander pitching well is no longer a big deal.

It's just what’s expected.

That's just the way Bumgarner and the D-backs want it to be, and it's also what both sides had in mind when he was signed as a free agent prior to 2020.

Bumgarner has come a long way from his struggles last year and earlier this season, with Tuesday marking the fifth start in a row in which he has allowed one run or fewer. The veteran allowed four hits and struck out nine without allowing a walk over seven dominant innings, retiring 13 of the final 14 batters he faced.

The five straight games with one or fewer runs is one shy of his career-long streak, which he set in 2016.

Bumgarner's WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) over that stretch is 0.47, the lowest WHIP by an NL pitcher over a five-start span since Hall of Famer Pete Alexander compiled a 0.42 WHIP over five starts in 1915.

"Well, you know, he's got an unbelievable feel for how to do things when he feels right," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said.

And that's really what it all comes down to -- feeling and trusting.

When this five-game stretch started against the Nationals on April 18, Bumgarner talked about just clearing his mind of spin rates and the movement of pitches and the like and just got back to going out there and competing.

That mindset is what he built his career on and he utilized it to great success as a key member of multiple World Series-winning Giants clubs.

"Yeah, that's a lot of it," Bumgarner said of that focus. "Yeah, that's definitely a big part of it."

Asked again about the difference over the last five starts and his first three this year when he had an 11.20 ERA, Bumgarner did not want to go into too many details.

"Yeah, I definitely can, but I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus," Bumgarner said. "So I'm going to keep that to myself."

What Bumgarner can't keep to himself is the confidence his teammates have these days that when he takes the mound they have a good chance of walking away with a win.

"He did a really good job," said veteran infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera, who went 4-for-5 and drove in three runs on Tuesday. "He was really good with that cutter and fastball inside, mixing it up a little bit. And when you see a pitcher like that, it makes you feel confident to come to the plate and score some runs for him."

Bumgarner's fastball velocity was down quite a bit last season following the multiple-month shutdown, but it's back to where it was prior to that break. On Tuesday, his four-seamer averaged 92.6 mph, which is his second-highest average for a start since the beginning of the 2019 season.

Velocity isn't the end-all, be-all for Bumgarner, but the few added ticks do give him more margin for error if he doesn't have pinpoint command on a given day. The jump is probably because he had a regular ramp-up to a season this time around, but it also comes from the lack of clutter on his mind with his mental approach the last five games.

“I know velocity comes and goes," Bumgarner said. "It was obviously a big dropoff last year -- more than usual when it comes and goes -- but I'm certainly glad it's back. I think a big part of it is kind of the mindset. What I'm doing now kind of frees me up and I can definitely tell that, and there's a lot more conviction in my pitches, I know that for sure."