Like his entire Arizona Diamondbacks team, pitcher Madison Bumgarner is doing a mental balancing act.
Last year sure did happen, as nightmarish as playing a baseball season through a pandemic might seem. The D-backs all know they underperformed to finish with a 25-35 record.
They’re back at it prepping for 2021 with largely the same group. As individuals, many of them will be fighting between using 2020 as motivation to bounce back versus not letting that disappointment weigh on them.
Bumgarner is one of those players. He signed an $85 million deal with Arizona and made headlines when his secret identity of Mason Saunders the cattle roper was revealed during the first iteration of spring training, before the pandemic. That feels like a lifetime ago.
But his nine-game performance in 2020 — producing a 6.48 ERA and 1.44 WHIP — remains the biggest question surrounding the Diamondbacks as pitchers and catchers report to 2021 spring camp.
“I think everybody certainly remembers what happened last year, myself obviously included,” Bumgarner said on Wednesday. “Underperformed as bad as anybody, maybe worse than anybody.”
Bumgarner is willing to admit it. He’s also not overreacting about struggling to find his form last season.
If anything, he’s taking it as a harsh lesson that maybe was unavoidable by playing for a new team for the first time in his 13-year MLB career.
“You can learn from everything on a daily basis, but as far as my baseball career, I’m not going to let three months change 10 or 12 years of what I’ve done,” Bumgarner said. “So no, I’m not quite ready to say that (season represents his abilities) yet. Maybe if this is a constant road to be on, then maybe I can come back and talk about it later, but I don’t see it that way.”
While his career-low fastball velocity of 88.4 was an outside concern — and still is — Bumgarner said that pitch-mix was maybe the bigger issue to work through with his new team.
His final two starts in 2020 at least provided clarity.
Finding a way to be less predictable took time. The D-backs staff and Bumgarner figured things out at the tail end of the season.
The lefty threw 10 innings over his last two starts, allowing four hits and no earned runs. Bumgarner struck out 11 and walked one batter.
“I felt really good about it,” he said of the final two games. “I’m always willing to try new things and learn new stuff. It was kind of a group effort to come up with what we did … nothing crazy, just try to keep it simple more than anything.”
Bumgarner said he “felt good” after throwing his first bullpen Wednesday. He said that he kept in shape this winter and the only changes in his winter preparation were with regards to following Arizona’s training program.
As for 2020, Bumgarner doesn’t know how much the start-and-stop-and-restart of spring impacted him as the pandemic disrupted baseball..
“It’s hard to say for sure,” Bumgarner said. “Obviously, you look at the kind of year I had, and I want to say it drastically or dramatically affected myself but there’s so many variables — that was definitely a bigger one.”
It seems not to have cost him any confidence.
“I’m not trying to sugarcoat it or anything else,” the pitcher added. “I’m not worried about what you guys write about, whether it’s good or bad. I just want to win.”