The San Francisco Giants are getting creative in their push for the second N.L. Wild Card spot. Last night, clinging to a one-run lead against the Cardinals in the seventh, the Giants decided to use lefty ace Madison Bumgarner as a pinch-hitter for pitcher Ryan Vogelsong.
Vogelsong had already pitched six scoreless innings that night but hadn’t done anything behind the plate. Enter Bumgarner, the reigning World Series MVP pitcher, who singled and eventually came around to score. The Giants went on to win the game 2-0, and have now won 6 of their last 8.
Although Bumgarner’s single won’t land him in any top plays segments, that the Giants can use him like this gives them a huge advantage over other teams. Because he’s such a good hitter — not to mention a superstar pitcher — Bumgarner effectively gives the Giants an extra roster spot: rather than needing to keep an extra hitter on the team just for situations like last night, the Giants can instead keep an extra pitcher in their bullpen and use Bumgarner to pinch hit or DH. This helps keep relievers’ arms well-rested, and late in the season, this is a major luxury to have.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy has openly toyed with giving Bumgarner a larger role in the offence.
“He’s a legit hitter,” Bochy told CSN Bay Area earlier this week. “He’s not a pitcher I think you hit eighth. He could hit seventh.”
There’s always the worry of having such a talented pitcher bat and run the bases, as an errant foul tip or routine run toward first could result in an injury and time on the DL. But this hasn’t been a problem for Bumgarner and the Giants. So far this season, Bumgarner has four home runs , including one off Clayton Kershaw. On Sunday he had a double and a solo shot to go with a three-hit, 14 strikeout complete game shutout on the mound. As Deadspin’s Kevin Draper aptly put it, “Madison Bumgarner is like that kid who is too good for Little League, the best pitcher on his team who also bats cleanup and plays shortstop when he’s not on the mound.”
The Giants trail the Dodgers by two games in the NL West, and are three games behind the Cubs for the final Wild Card Spot. Bumgarner is likely to start 9 more time this regular season — the Giants will need his arm and his bat if they want any shot of defending their World Series title come October.
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