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D-backs manager details Bumgarner's 'frustrating' season

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It seems like it's been a decade, but it was actually just one year and one day ago that the Arizona Diamondbacks officially announced they had swiped Madison Bumgarner from the Giants. Bumgarner's decision was the biggest moment of the Giants' offseason, and at the time, it set up some juicy storylines for 2020.

The Giants were supposed to face Bumgarner on their first road trip and host him at Oracle Park shortly thereafter. The Diamondbacks would have visited San Francisco three times, and all of those games would have come with extra intrigue and a chance for an adoring fan base to show appreciation one more time. 

What happened off the field in 2020 prevented all of that drama, and on the field, Bumgarner looked very little like the pitcher who once dragged his previous franchise to a title. 

Bumgarner made nine starts in his first season in Arizona and had a 6.48 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. He had a career-low 6.5 strikeouts-per-nine, and he allowed 13 homers in 41 2/3 innings, doubling the highest rate he had in 10 full seasons in orange and black. 

"We watched Bum have a frustrating year numbers-wise," Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said on a Zoom call this week. "I'm sure those who were there every day saw his frustration. You've got to remember, he threw some pretty good games despite not being at his competitive best. Why wasn't he at his competitive best? I think we can all come up with some ideas. Maybe it was the start-stop-reload shortened-and-condensed spring training 2.0 and then being thrust into the start on opening day. 

 

"His stuff never really took off the way he wanted it to, by his own admission, but he would grind out games. No matter when I came to take him out of the game, he always told me 'I have more.' That's just one of those great qualities that he walks around with."

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For as difficult as the season was, Bumgarner probably wanted it to keep going. He finally got going at the end, throwing five-inning shutouts in his final two starts, with just four hits allowed and 11 strikeouts. The length of those starts isn't what Bumgarner is used to, but the rest of it was more in line with his career norms, and his velocity was more encouraging than it was early in the season. 

Prior to that, the season was the exact opposite of what he had hoped. Bumgarner never pitched more than 5 2/3 innings and allowed multiple homers in five of his first seven starts. One of the most durable pitchers of his generation missed most of August with a back strain. 

Bumgarner's pitch usage was pretty similar to the end of his Giants run, but his fastball averaged just 88.4 mph -- down from 91.4 in 2019 -- and his trademark cutter lost nearly four mph. Bumgarner ranked in the bottom five percent of MLB starters in barrel percentage, fastball velocity and strikeout rate.   

The Diamondbacks have little choice but to hope the velocity returns, allowing Bumgarner to live up to a five-year, $85 million deal that was heavily backloaded. They have been quiet through two months of the offseason and are expected to cut costs this winter, meaning Bumgarner returning to form is one of the few easy ways for the Diamondbacks to live up to the hype that had them viewed as a dark horse in the NL heading into 2020. They ended up finishing last in the division at 25-35.

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Spring training should be more normal this time around, and that should make a huge difference for a pitcher who was meticulous in the way he built up to opening day as a Giant. Lovullo is hopeful other adjustments make a difference for Bumgarner. 

"I know that we challenged him at the end of the year to make sure he had continued and walked through a very targeted and very specific kind of offseason with his work habits and the work that he does," Lovullo said. "I know that he works hard no matter what -- he's always done that -- but this was a little more targeted in certain areas. I do know that he's been working out and working hard at it, and I'm really anxious to see how he comes back to us in spring training, whenever that may be."