D-backs starter Madison Bumgarner will return to a familiar place for a series of firsts against his former team this weekend.
His start Saturday against the Giants will be the first of his career against the team that drafted him and helped turn him into a postseason legend. It will also be the veteran’s first start since Aug. 9 when he left the game against the Padres with back discomfort and went on the 10-day injured list the next day.
Bumgarner spoke with reporters Friday and showed that he is clearly more focused on his health than nostalgia. For the record, his back is fine.
“Guys have been asking me if it's weird coming in on the other side and all that, and it's really not,” said Bumgarner, who pitched for the Giants from 2009-19 and won three World Series with them. “It is nice to be back and see a lot of the guys that I knew and played with and worked with the staff over there. There's a lot of new faces for sure. It's pretty much completely different, it looks like.”
Bumgarner went 119-92 with a 3.13 ERA and 1,794 strikeouts with the Giants. He established himself as one of the most durable starters in baseball with 30-plus starts and 200-plus innings in seven of the last nine seasons in San Francisco.
“I’m really excited to see what it looks like when he steps on that mound,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “I'm just glad he's going to be walking into our dugout, but part of me wishes that there were fans here to watch him and appreciate him, and support him and maybe give him a round of applause for all the great things he did for this organization and world championships that he won.”
Bumgarner, who signed a five-year, $85 million free-agent deal with the D-backs this past offseason, is 0-3 with a 9.35 ERA this season and adjusting to life in the desert. His velocity is down and he’s allowing a 42.4 percent hard-hit rate this year, which would be his highest in a season since Statcast started tracking it in 2015.
While it’s true that Bumgarner has never been a high-velocity pitcher, his fastballs have dropped from an average of 89.6 mph in 2019 to a career-low 85.4 mph this season (per Statcast), which is the second biggest drop from one season to the next among starting pitchers (minimum 50 fastballs thrown) since 2008.
“The dropoff of velocity has been common for a lot of pitchers in his category, guys that have logged some innings and the shortened Spring Training may have had something to do with that,” Lovullo said. “I think we'll see the velocity tick up piece by piece. It was not a result of the injury early and I don't think it'll be a result of coming back from the injury. I think the one outing he was removed early because of the injury might have had an impact on his velocity. But I think he's in a good spot right now.”
Consider this: Before this season, Bumgarner’s highest average fastball velocity was 92.7 mph in 2015. The lowest was 88.1 mph in 2018. It’s also worth noting that Lovullo is not worried about his pitcher’s velocity at all.
“Part two of that is that I don't really care about the velocity and I'm not a velocity junkie,” the D-backs manager said. “Certainly, I like the guys that have a lot of velocity but for me, it's about landing pitches. If you got velocity, you land your pitches and hit the spots, then you're elite. [Bumgarner] is gifted enough to land pitches no matter what his velocity is, so that's what I'm more anxious to see: how he is making pitches and landing pitches.”
For his part, Bumgarner does not expect to light up the radar gun. He admits his stuff isn’t the same as it once was, and it’s because of the layoff between Spring Training and Summer Camp.
“I’m going to go out there with what I got and try to pitch and get outs,” he said. “And that's all you can do. I'm going to have to get past it and not worry about how hard I'm throwing. Because for me, it's always been about making pitches anyway."