Madison Bumgarner is a huge dude with big hands — the kind of hands you might even call “mitts.” Of course, the reason ballplayers wear actual mitts is to prevent injuries like the one Bumgarner suffered Friday. In the third inning of his last spring training start, Bumgarner took a line drive from Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield off his throwing hand. The severity of Bumgarner’s injury is still undetermined, but the hand is broken, and there isn’t yet a timetable for his return.
It’s the second freak injury in 12 months for the four-time All-Star, who missed three months last year after injuring his shoulder in a dirt bike accident. It’s a cruel irony for the most durable pitcher of a generation for which Tommy John and shoulder fatigue are rites of passage: From ages 21 to 26, Bumgarner threw 200 innings or more six straight years. Even his postseason heroics are predicated not only on pitching well but pitching often: Three of his 14 career playoff starts were complete-game shutouts, and a fourth went eight scoreless. He clinched the 2014 World Series by throwing five scoreless innings on two days’ rest. Bumgarner’s connective tissue is impervious to your pitiful human weapons.
Not so his bones, as it turns out. The on-field implications for the injury are obvious: Bumgarner is San Francisco’s best pitcher, and second-best player overall after catcher Buster Posey, and the Giants were going to need every last one of his 200 innings to steal a wild-card spot after finishing last season with a tied-for-league-worst 64 wins. And they’ll feel that loss all the more keenly now that Jeff Samardzija — who’s going for his sixth-straight 200-inning season — will miss at least some of April with a strained right pectoral muscle suffered in spring training.
While the Dodgers and Diamondbacks roll around in their surplus of starting pitchers at the top of the NL West, the Giants are scrambling to fill out their rotation just so they don’t fall off the back of the pack by April. Right now, that rotation looks like Johnny Cueto, who was once a capital-A Ace but is now 32 years old and coming off his worst season in almost a decade, two back-end starter types in Chris Stratton and Ty Blach, and whoever won the biggest stuffed animal at the knock-down-the-milk-bottles booth at the California State Fair. The Giants are currently looking at former Rangers lefty Derek Holland, who had a 6.20 ERA last year, two-time first-rounder and sometime rapper Tyler “Young Beedah” Beede, and righthander Joan Gregorio, whom you wouldn’t be able to pick out of a lineup if he weren’t 6-foot-8. We’re one barking elbow from someone in the Giants’ front office pointing out with total earnestness that Posey and Brandon Belt pitched in college.
It’s a long, unpredictable season, so losing Bumgarner isn’t a death sentence, but it’s one more obstacle to overcome for a team that had an uphill climb to the playoffs already.