The Madison Bumgarner that made his major league debut last September wasn't the same Madison Bumgarner we had heard so much about the past two years.
Instead of the low-to-mid-90s heat he used to blow away South Atlantic League hitters in 2008, Bumgarner was barely hitting 90 in his first career start. There was no specific reason as to why the readings on the radar gun was showing 88 or that it was showing 92 and 94.
Whether it was something seriously wrong with his arm or just something mechanical, there was no real explanation as to why Bumgarner's powerful fastball had lost some of its pop.
So when the Giants reported to camp a month ago, Bumgarner regaining his velocity was one of the biggest things people wanted to know about. But the readings didn't improve. In both his appearances this spring, Bumgarner hasn't had the same zip on his fastball that he did this time last year.
But even if he does regain any kind fastball velocity before camp breaks at the end of the month, Bumgarner should be headed to Fresno to begin the year instead of hopping on a plane to Houston.
Is it because Todd Wellemeyer or Kevin Pucetas would be so much better than Bumgarner over the course of the season? No. Is it because the drop in velocity means he can't be an effective pitcher? Absolutely not.
His success in Double-A last year shows that the loss in velocity didn't hurt his ability to pitch. Bumgarner was getting people out, he was just doing it a different way. He wasn't blowing the normal smoke by hitters like he was in 2008 with Augusta, but that didn't affect the amount of players he was getting out.
But getting major league hitters out is obviously not the same as trying the same in the minors. As good as it may be, you can't rely solely on one pitch as a starter and expect long-term success and expect to be a long-term fixture in a team's rotation.
Allowing him to pitch every fifth day with Fresno would give him the chance to work on the all important secondary stuff. That doesn't mean he doesn't have secondary stuff, his slider has shown very good potential, however it just isn't being thrown effectively with much consistency.
He's not going to be doing that very much when the Giants begin their season. Because of how the schedule has been made, the need for a fifth starter won't be happening very often in the first month or so.
That's not exactly how you want to have a 20-year-old kid like Bumgarner build up arm strength.
And so far as a professional, getting stretched out is not something he has really had the opportunity to do. In his 49 games (48 starts) thus far in the minors , Bumgarner has only averaged 5 2/3 innings per outing. Some of that has to do with the Giants wanting to keep his innings under control, but still, that's not exactly going deep into games every time out.
So it comes down to this—if the Giants are willing to postpone the Buster Posey era from beginning in San Francisco, why can't the same be said for Bumgarner?
They're both close to being a big part of the club, it just shouldn't be happening at the beginning of the year. Velocity or not, let Bumgarner show that he can pitch in the Pacific Coast League. There's no rush to get him in the rotation.
Starting Bumgarner in the minors is not only the smart move for the 2010 season, but also for the future.
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