WEST SACRAMENTO — There was a sandwich board outside the ticket office of Raley Field before the gates even opened, and then later, during the game, outside the parking lot. Its message was simple:
This wasn’t a Giants-esque attempt to claim a sellout when there were whole sections empty. This was park early or you’re walking a few blocks. This was you and your spouse take turns in the concession lines because the time it’ll take you to get your food is measured in innings, not minutes. This was the first River Cats sellout of the year. This was Madison Bumgarner Day.
Almost as soon as he got to the park, Bumgarner was making an impact in Sacramento. The River Cats hadn’t been planning on having batting practice on the field Saturday; players were hitting in their indoor cage, but taking their hacks on the field wasn’t on the schedule. Then Madison Bumgarner said he wanted to take BP on the field, and you’ll never believe what happened next.
But the main attraction was, of course, Bumgarner on the mound. And while his outing was short — he was limited to 45 pitches — for the time he was out there, he was vintage Bumgarner. He came out of the dugout wearing number 40, he warmed up to Fire on the Mountain, and he dominated.
By the fourth pitch of the first at bat, against Rockies prospect Garrett Hampson, Bumgarner was hitting 91 on the radar gun, and on the seventh pitch, a high cutter, he recorded his first strikeout. The second batter, Raimel Tapia, struck out looking at a curveball Bumgarner threw over the heart of the plate. The third batter, Josh Fuentes, swung through a 90 MPH fastball. And like that, the game had started and Madison Bumgarner was back.
It would have been easy for the on field results to go wrong, but for the night to still be a success. That’s what happened last year when Bumgarner was in Sacramento, and he didn’t pitch especially effectively, but he felt good, and he was progressing, and that news was enough.
That’s not what happened Saturday.
Bumgarner breezed through the second inning on six pitches. In the third, he did issue a walk, the only baserunner he’d allow in the game, but he also struck out two, including one on a 61 (!!!) MPH slow curve/eephus that took everyone by surprise. It wasn’t a preplanned thing. “I thought of it probably three seconds before I threw it,” Bumgarner said in his post-game presser. “Just kinda feeling it out while I’m out there.”
The first big cheer Bumgarner got on Saturday was when his name was announced as the starting pitcher as he was warming up. The third, and final, was when he (Spoilers!) walked off the mound with two outs in the top of the fourth. But the second was when he came up to bat in the bottom of the third, and it was a reminder that Madison Bumgarner The Hitter is just as popular as Madison Bumgarner The Pitcher.
Madison Bumgarner The Hitter didn’t disappoint, lining a 94 MPH Antonio Senzatela fastball, the first pitch he saw, into right field. Asked about it later, he said, “First pitch I’ve seen in a while, so I was a little tardy there, but I’ll take it.” Bumgarner came into the game not having faced competitive pitching in months, and the first thing he did was line 94 miles an hour to right field. The moral here is simple: When Madison Bumgarner says he wants to take BP on the field, you make it happen.
With Bumgarner’s pitch count in the high 30s coming into the top of the 4th inning and a limit of 45 pitches, it was bound to be his last inning, and he made it count. He struck out Tapia, making him look silly on a 90 MPH fastball above the strike zone, and then he got Fuentes on a 91 MPH fastball above the zone. Then, at 47 pitches and having struck out 8 and walked 1, Madison Bumgarner walked off the field at Raley Field, acknowledging an exuberant crowd as he left.
“I feel pretty good about how everything’s working,” Bumgarner said after the game, noting that he was pleased with the consistency of his pitches. “The breaking stuff was moving right. Command of it was good. Fastball command was good. Pretty much everything I was looking for.”
The only fault to find with Bumgarner’s start is that it ended so early. Of course, that’s because he needs to build up his arm strength, and he still needs to see how his arm will feel the day after his start, but if you ask him, his stuff is ready for him to get outs in the majors, even if he’s limited to 60 or 70 pitches the next time out. “I wouldn’t say I’ll be back and be in midseason form,” he said, being clear that he’s not all the way back just yet. “But I feel definitely good enough to get some outs”