Not many top prospects make their debuts in the majors at age 20. Even fewer players make their debuts six weeks after turning 20 and know they're entering a playoff race.
On top of that, he's making an emergency start to replace the face of the San Francisco Giants franchise in reigning National League Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum.
He's 20 years old, making his debut in a September playoff push, filling in for The Franchise...good luck, Madison Bumgarner. Go get 'em, kid.
That is what makes Bumgarner's debut in the bigs Tuesday night so unique. We can write about him all we want here on the West Coast while he's pitching across the country with the Giants' Double-A affiliate in Connecticut, but until we see actually see the barely-20-year-old that we've been praising for months, there's never really the certainty that we're getting what we read about.
For some, including yours truly, as we were getting ready to head out to the yard, we got the word that the Freak was sidelined with a bad back and Giants GM Brian Sabean had dipped into the farm system for the other member of the two-headed prospect monster for the second time in a matter of days.
Instead of pitching in the Eastern League playoff opener Wednesday night, he's trying to keep the Giants in their own playoff race on Tuesday. Talk about a change of scenery and circumstances in a matter of 24 hours.
Understandably, the kid had nerves going into his debut—for the record, I was nervous as hell for him when my BART train whizzed under the Bay. But you wouldn't notice Bumgarner was a bit shaken when he fired his first pitch right down the chute and then stabbed a comebacker facing his first batter, Everth Cabrera.
The first inning followed with the next two hitters going down—a one-two-three inning in your first career inning. The guy is two years out of high school, and he's got ice water in his veins. First test passed.
At least he seemed calm and collected. He had to be going about buzzing inside.
The Giants gave him a one-run lead in the bottom half of the first, but that was quickly erased when Chase Headley hit a laser into the left field bleachers. For as bad as the Padres offense is, you can't chuck fastballs down the chute and expect them not to be hit against a big league hitter.
As the game went on, you could tell that Bumgarner was finally getting settled in. The zip on the fastball wasn't changing much, sitting 88-91, but he did find the snap on his slider, and it certainly helped his cause. Other than another solo shot off a meaty fastball, this time off the bat of Kevin Kouzmanoff, Mad Bum continued to fire strikes and get the job done.
However, the most notable thing with Bumgarner was that he wasn't firing 95 MPH rockets like we had expected. Instead, he only topped out at 91, and that wasn't very often. His final line demonstrates that—5.1 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, and 76 pitches thrown.
He wasn't overly impressive in terms of pure stuff that the scouts love to throw out there, but he got the job done and gave his team a chance to win.
That doesn't mean it was a bad outing. If you go by just what was on the gun, then sure, it wasn't the Bumgarner we heard about in Spring Training throwing mid-90s and striking out the dreaded wonder that is Manny Ramirez.
Still, despite the lower-than-expected gun readings, Bumgarner went out there and go the job done.
Anything else you want a guy who turned 20 six weeks ago to do in his debut?
Two mistakes, that's all. Take out the two bombs and Bumgarner only gave up three hits.
Oh, and did we mention the kid could swing the stick?
Much to my liking, Bumgarner is a lefty thrower who bats right-handed. First pitch he sees, he tries to jack one across the Bay. As Jon Miller said, he took a mighty cut. His second AB saw him hit a rocket to the track that saw him receive one of many ovations from the crowd.
By no means is Bumgarner a finished product, though. The kid has the tools, the build, and the mindset to be yet another stud in the Giants rotation—one that is built on power fastballs and lots of strikeouts. The drop in velocity is a concern, but he is just two years out of high school and has piled up nearly 280 innings as a professional in the minors.
He definitely has to work on the offspeed stuff to be considered a legit major leaguer. It was only a year ago in Low-A when he was simply blowing hitters away with his best fastball. In Connecticut, it was more about trying to have Bumgarner develop as a pitcher.
Despite the dip in velocity as the season went on, he still limited hitters to a .211 average in 131.1 innings this season.
The talent is there. It's just a matter of putting everything together.
But for the circumstances he was put into a day after his cross-country flight, who he was replacing in the rotation, and all the hoopla of the Giants trying to keep pace with the Rockies, you can't fault Bumgarner for the Giants' eventual 4-3 loss to the Padres.
He deserved the win—something the Giants have to get as many of as they can this time of year, with Colorado basically showing they're not going to slow down as the number of games dwindle down.
Now let's welcome back Lincecum and see Mad Bum and Gerald D. Posey catching up on things in the dugout while watching their mates challenge the Rocks.