So what was wrong with him this spring? Here's Sabean (via Andrew Baggarly):
- "It's this simple: He was preoccupied this winter and it cost him," Sabean said. "He had personal stuff to straighten out, getting married, and he was ill-prepared to come into spring training. I don't know how much he threw to get ready.
Sabean said vice president and pitching guru Dick Tidrow spent time with Bumgarner over the weekend to help tweak his mechanics. The session appeared to pay off.
Bumgarner rebounded with a much better effort Monday, holding Portland to three hits and two runs (one earned) in six innings. According to Fresno broadcaster Doug Greenwald, the scoreboard radar gun had Bumgarner's fastball consistently in the low 90s, topping out at 93 mph.
"Because of how he throws across his body, it's a timing thing, like a hitter with a hitch in his swing," Sabean said. "When he's in sync, he's throwing downhill. He hadn't done that.
"Right now, he's got three things against him: His slow start, the mechanical issues and the pressures of Triple-A. But he's a good athlete and a good talent and he'll figure it out."
Can it really be so simple?
Just a couple of questions I would ask Brian Sabean, if I had his number and it wasn't one in the morning:
1. Wasn't Dick Tidrow with the club in spring training? If he was, why wasn't this mechanical adjustment made then?
2. Along the same lines, if Bumgarner's drop in fastball speed this spring was due to ill preparation and poor mechanics, then what was the problem last summer, when he mysteriously lost five miles an hour off his fastball?
If the "scoreboard radar gun" Monday night was accurate, that's a real marker for optimism. So I hesitate to mention that scoreboard radar guns are notoriously inaccurate, and that Bumgarner's ERA in three Triple-A starts is still 8.31, and that he was allowed to throw only 74 pitches Monday night, and that in six innings he struck out only three Portland Beavers.
It was a necessary first step. But it was a baby step, and those pesky questions remain.
It probably isn't fair, for a 20-year-old to have to deal with experienced Triple-A hitters and a new wife and curmudgeons like me. But Brian Sabean's right: If Bumgarner's got the requisite talents to succeed -- and, it should be said, the good luck to avoid tearing something important -- he's going to figure it out. All we can do is pull for him.