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Vintage Bumgarner performance gets Giants back to .500

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Madison Bumgarner made his fourth start of 2018 Thursday night, but before the game Bruce Bochy estimated that his level of stamina and polish would likely be comparable to his first game out of Spring Training. In other words, Bochy expected his ace would be back to his old self, and the big lefty proved the skipper right.

Bumgarner (W, 1-2, 3.20 ERA) pitched eight scoreless innings, giving up just three hits while striking out eight, and added an RBI to take a 3-0 victory over the Padres (34-42) bringing San Francisco (38-38) back to .500 for the first time since June 11.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Giants clubhouse at AT&T Park.

In Bumgarner’s first three starts, opponents were teeing off on his cutter (7-for-23) and sinker (8-for-22) and he received just six runs in support in all three games combined. But Thursday night was a return to form for the big man and he was next to un-hittable, tossing six one-two-three innings out of his eight.

Of the improvement to his performance in this start he said:

“It feels like everything keeps improving and kinda getting back in the swing of things. Command was the biggest jump for me tonight. It’s coming along.”

Bochy, too, was pleased with Bumgarner’s work on the mound:

“It was the Madison we know, I mean he really hit his spots. Great focus out there, [he] had all his pitches going, he mixed it up well and you know he knocks in the first run — it was the type of game we’ve seen so many times from him and we needed it from him cause their guy pitched well too. … You can see each time he’s getting better and better and he was a bit more comfortable out there.”

Despite the Padres place in the division cellar 8-1/2 games out of first place, Bumgarner and the Giants don’t take victory over them for granted. Dating back to last season the team and specifically Bumgarner has struggled mightily against San Diego. Going into Thursday’s series-opener with the Friars, the Giants were 12-24 in their last 36 matchups, having lost four of seven this season. Meanwhile Bumgarner’s win Thursday night snapped a personal four-game losing streak against the Pads.

Bumgarner said:

“They got some guys over there that you gotta pitch to and be careful with. They got a good lineup so I feel good about [my performance]. I was able to keep it off the barrels for the most part. We had a lot of good plays, too, so it was a good all-around game.”

He still got little run support because Padres righty Tyson Ross (L, 5-5, 3.34 ERA) was also dealing.

In fact, the only run in the first seven innings for either team came courtesy of Bumgarner himself when he came to the plate in the fifth with Pablo Sandoval on third, Joe Panik on second and one out. Bumgarner sent a 92-mph 3-1 fastball for a long ride just short of the warning track in left field, and based on the reaction from the 37,497 fans at the yard, one could’ve easily been forgiven for thinking the sacrifice fly had instead flown over the wall.

Panik commented on what it meant to have Bumgarner back at full-steam:

“When you run into games like this when we’re facing another team’s number one or whatever it is—Tyson’s been having a good year this year and he threw the ball well again tonight—on those nights, thats when you look to number 40 over there, and let him lock horns with the guy. You know we’ll scratch [runs] across somehow.”

The Padres came close to touching Bumgarner in the fifth inning when José Pírela led off with a single to left-center field and one batter later Manuel Margot sliced a double to right.

But Pírela got greedy. He ignored the stop sign from Padres third base coach Glenn Hoffman and was thrown out at home by Panik, who took the cutoff throw from Andrew McCutchen and fired home to Posey who reached back to apply the tag.

Panik described the play:

“As a relay guy you always want to anticipate the guy is gonna be going, so you’re never caught off guard. You know [Brandon] Belt was the one yelling in my ear basically, ‘Four four four!’  [but] it all starts with the first throw and ‘Cutch’ threw it right on the money, so it made my job a lot easier.”

Reliever Phil Maton took over in the eighth after Ross had thrown 101 pitches and the Giants took the opportunity to finally add some cushion to Bumgarner’s first masterpiece of the season. Alen Hanson led off the eighth inning by roping a triple to left field and Buster Posey knocked a single under Freddy Galvis‘ glove to bring Hanson home. Sandoval added one more to make it 3-0 four batters later when his flare to shallow right was dropped by Pírela ranging out from second base, plating Posey.

The cherry on top Thursday was the fact that for the first time all season one of Bochy’s starters tossed eight frames giving his bullpen a desperately needed break.

Of the relief for the relievers Bochy said:

“It’s critical for your bullpen to have a guy or two who does that for you—gets you deep in the game and gets them a break. Those guys needed a break, especially guys we’ve been using in that setup and closing role.”

With the Giants new closer Sam Dyson gassed after working three days in a row, Bochy offered Mark Melancon (S, 1, 2.35 ERA) the honors of putting a bow on Bumgarner’s first win of 2018. Melancon came up with a scoreless ninth to earn his first save of the season.

Up Next

The Giants aim to bring their win-loss record above .500 for the first time since June 10 in game two of four against the Padres Friday. Right-handed rookie Chris Stratton (8-4, 4.22 ERA) will take on Friars southpaw Clayton Richard (6-6, 4.31 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:15 p.m.

Notes

Jeff Samardzija made his second rehab appearance with Triple-A Sacramento Thursday night against the Padres Triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas. He threw 73 pitches over 4 innings giving up four hits, two runs and a home run. He struck out seven. … Austin Slater joined the Giants taxi squad ahead of Wednesday night’s game, in part because Bochy said he was originally unsure of Alen Hanson’s status after fouling a ball off his knee Wednesday night. Slater has been a force to be reckoned with in Sacramento this season, batting .320 with a .981 OPS, 24 doubles, eight stolen bases and 32 RBI. Hanson started in left field and batted leadoff, going 1-for-4 with a triple and a run scored. … Johnny Cueto (right elbow inflammation) is scheduled to throw 40 pitches in a game for the River Cats in Sacramento on Saturday. Cueto is expected to throw at least three rehab starts.


Julie Parker is SFBay’s San Francisco Giants beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @insidethepark3r on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Giants baseball.

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