Mariotti: Can MadBum pitch all 162? 

click to enlarge Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner was lights-out in the season opener Monday, throwing seven innings and allowing one run. - ROSS D. FRANKLIN/AP
  • Ross D. Franklin/AP
  • Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner was lights-out in the season opener Monday, throwing seven innings and allowing one run.
PHOENIX — This time, the folk-hero quotient can’t stop at Paul Bunyan. This time, given the traumatized state of the Giants’ pitching rotation, Madison Bumgarner also might have to channel Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Hercules, Che Guevara, Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, Hulk, Thor, Superman and Ironman. Some very tall tales have been told about MadBum, including one that actually is true, the one down here in Arizona where he stepped on a snake and had to kill it with an ax, only to realize the snake had eaten three rabbits for lunch, requiring his wife, Ali, to rescue one of them.

Well, guess what? That piece of work isn’t going to be enough. Nor may it be enough to have only one month where he pitches 52 2/3 innings, allows just six earned runs, then takes the ball on two days’ rest to pitch five shutout relief innings and secure not only the Giants’ third World Series title in five years but a permament place in sporting implausibility.

With Matt Cain likely back to the disabled list with a forearm flexor tendon strain, and Jake Peavy unable to start tonight with lower back stiffness and a possible dead arm, Bumgarner might be needed to follow his commanding start Monday night — seven innings, one earned run, six hits, three strikeouts, one walk, two hit batters in what became a needlessly tense 5-4 victory over the lowly Diamondbacks — with two more starts at Chase Field. Then maybe he can start four more times in San Diego against the replenished Padres. Then maybe he can start the opener in San Francisco …

What do you think? A little MadBum Rambo action?

"Do I have food on my mouth?" said Bumgarner, not interested afterward in the notion that he is a superhero.

But he is, for this vulnerable team at this precarious time. I mean, Bruce Bochy couldn’t even remove Bumgarner with a 5-1 lead without watching the scene unravel in the eighth. The Feeblebacks came to life against Javier Lopez and Jean Machi, loading the bases for Sergio Romo to earn that new $15 million contract with a fat offering to pinch-hitter Jake Lamb, whose three-run double off the center-field wall interrupted a desert snooze under an open roof. It took Jeremy Affeldt to quell the storm before Santiago Casilla pitched a rocking ninth.

Should Bochy have left Bumgarner in? No. If the relief corps is that lame not to take advantage of a chance to rest the lumberjack arm, then the Giants have real issues.

"No, that was it," Bochy said.

What about Bumgarner’s performance? "I don’t know what else we can say about him," Bochy said. "We’re accustomed to it."

Across the clubhouse, Bumgarner was shutting down any idea that he is carrying the ballclub, though he is. "There is no pressure. It’s just about competin’, and that’s it," he said. "Compete as hard as you can, and you can be at peace with whatever the result is. … I’m just trying to get better as always. I’m not worried about what happened six months ago or three months ago or last week, just today."

And, no, he didn’t have food on his mouth, either.

But, yes, the Giants are encountering some immediate stress, if not outright trouble. I vowed not to overreact to management’s empty big-ticket results this past offseason, wanting to apply benefit-of-doubt patience to bosses who own three rings. But you’d be a ninny not to at least wonder if 2015 will be a three-ring circus, if Bumgarner should have been threatening Brian Sabean with an ax instead of swinging it at the tree in his now-famous TV commercial. They bid on Jon Lester, who mistakenly preferred Chicago, where the Cubs don’t have enough bathrooms for fans much less any shot of winning the Series while we’re alive. But after that setback, Sabean and Bobby Evans went dark, settling on a piecemeal rehash of Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong while the Padres were signing James Shields. Who knew that would start a splurge that would include lockdown closer Craig Kimbrel, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and both Uptons?

And who knew the Giants, who already were a half-game behind the Dodgers before the first pitch of opening night, would be playing a catchup game when they’ve yet to be handed their championship jewelry?

So all eyes were on Bumgarner, who threw 93 pitches and rode a 13-hit attack that rubbed out starter Josh Collmenter and reminded Arizona’s new braintrust — you remember Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart — that another 99 losses or more await. They can play only so many Taylor Swift songs here, you know? The Giants survived third-inning confusion betwen Nori Aoki and the new third-base coach, Roberto Kelly, that cost them a run. Where have you gone, Tim Flannery? This team can ill afford anything but airtight execution, with the pitching uncertainty shrinking the margin for error. But Angel Pagan, Joe Panik, Aoki, Brandon Crawford and Casey McGehee did enough damage to bury, at least temporarily, any fond memories of Pablo Sandoval.

Bochy seemed world-weary, having to deliver bad news that Cain will miss his Wednesday start and Peavy won’t be ready until San Diego at the earliest, forcing Vogelsong into emergency duty tonight. Has a defending champion ever had to replace two of its first three starters in the season’s opening series? The loss of Cain, coming off surgery last August to remove bone chips and spurs from his elbow, is shelved as expected, which might force Tim Lincecum to move up his start two nights or Bochy to tab minor-leaguer Chris Heston.

"It doesn’t sound like it should be major,” Cain said. “It sounds like it’s just just a strain. We’ll take it as it is and let it heal up.”

Hmmm. "If you’re asking me, there has to be some concern," Bochy said of Cain. "He has some tightness, and we have been slow-playing him (in spring training)."

If not, Lincecum? "That would be an option. You hope it’s not," Bochy said. It wasn’t intended as a joke.

What was thought to be a hopeful sign — four scoreless innings Friday night on a chilly night at AT&T Park — actually led to a Saturday catch session that revealed Cain’s discomfort. Should Cain have been pitching on a chilly night? Much as he said he was pumped by the ``energy’’ in the stadium, did it make sense to expose him to colder temperatures when he had spent spring training in the Arizona warmth and could have remained in that warmth until his Wednesday start? When the Giants returned home Thursday for those money-making exhibitions against the A’s, Bochy made a point of noting the chill by the bay. Was the decision made with a capacity crowd in mind? Shouldn’t it have been made solely with Cain’s well-being in mind?

Knowing the fragility of the human arm, even one as seemingly bionic as his, there will be concerns that Bumgarner threw too many innings last year (270) and in his first full five seasons (1,031) not to break down at some point. The Giants admire his work in the weight room, but his workload is bordering on obscene. He looked carefree in his debut after a bumpy spring training, continuing to set up on the third-base side of the pitching rubber — the mid-August adjustment that fueled his good-to-historic surge.

"No matter what anybody expects of me, it’s not going to be as much as I expect of me," he said. "So there’s no way that anyone can expect more of myself than I do."

That’s what he thinks.

This article has been updated from the version that ran in the print edition of The Examiner.

About The Author

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Bio:
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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