SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Madison Bumgarner has been back on a bike, though it’s hardly his first choice for fun. He rode a horse a handful of times this offseason.
More than anything, Bumgarner is looking for a bounce-back season after the most forgettable one yet for the ace of the San Francisco Giants.
“I always worked hard but I spent a little bit more time getting myself in shape and getting stronger,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of spring training. “I’m trying to be on the safer side, I guess. I definitely toned it down a little bit on my extracurricular activities.”
The 2014 World Series MVP missed nearly three months after a dirt bike accident April 20 during an off day in Colorado. It was an embarrassment, yet the left-hander took ownership of his mistake from Day 1.
Bumgarner is focused on baseball, with Giants pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training Tuesday and set for their first workout Wednesday at Scottsdale Stadium. Riding doesn’t interest him much these days.
“Nah, I don’t care to,” he said. “That’s just the big thing, not because I’m afraid to do something, just because it’s not the best thing for me to do. I’m kind of day to day in my regular life, too. I’m not just trying to say that just because it’s the easiest answer, that’s just how I do stuff. But not to say that I don’t think about last year now and then. As bad as it sounds, stuff like that makes people stronger and better people also.
“You’re always going to go through adversity no matter what you do. You’re always better for it. Sometimes, it has the opposite effect on somebody, but I think it’s good if you can take stuff and learn from it and be better because of it.”
Manager Bruce Bochy was in San Diego undergoing a heart procedure when he got word of Bumgarner’s accident.
“It’s like reliving a bad nightmare,” Bochy recalled. “Of course I get out of the procedure and I get the news and it was piling on. Somebody should have been penalized 15 yards for what was going on at that time with that piling on. It’s behind us now.”
Bumgarner had nearly finished a ride of more than two hours in the mountains outside Denver when his rented dirt bike slipped on the trail and took him to the ground. He bruised his ribs and sprained the AC joint in his pitching shoulder.
“Obviously if I had it to do over again I would do it a different way,” the 28-year-old Bumgarner acknowledges now, “but I don’t, so I’ve just got to take it and move on.”
After six straight seasons with double-digit wins, more than 200 innings and 30-plus starts – the previous three years with 18, 18 and 15 victories – Bumgarner went 4-9 with a 3.32 ERA in 17 starts and threw just 111 innings to match his total from 2010 when he came up in June. He had dazzled ever since.
His injury last spring provided a blow when the Giants were already off to a rough start. They finished a surprising last in the NL West at 64-98.
“I’m sure he’s more anxious and excited than anyone,” said Brian Sabean, the club’s executive vice president of baseball operations. “He’s our No. 1. And he’s widely considered still one of the best pitchers in baseball.”
Now, the Giants have a new right fielder in Andrew McCutchen, third baseman Evan Longoria aboard in a trade from Tampa Bay and Austin Jackson as a versatile outfielder.
“I’ve talked to Madison. He’s really excited about what’s happened here with the club and where he’s at. He says he feels great with his delivery, his health,” Bochy said. “That’s the beautiful thing about baseball. You have a down year, you get a new slate. New year, new season, new race. Guys get a chance to heal up and it breeds optimism. I’ll put Madison in there, too.”
Bumgarner won’t say that his own injury-shortened year combined with San Francisco’s failure fueled him this winter, but it didn’t hurt to give him an extra push to get to work. He took just two weeks off after the season and then returned to conditioning work, when he typically would wait about a month to six weeks before getting going again.
“I don’t know if it was because of the year, because of the injury or maybe both, I don’t know what it is, but I definitely worked harder and found it easier to be motivated to do so,” he said. “I feel as strong as I’ve ever been.”
The 6-foot-5 Bumgarner has long been durable and his arm always fresh, so he refuses to buy into the idea he might be even stronger this season having worked so few innings in 2017.
He began his throwing program Jan. 1 as usual.
“I’m always excited to get started but this is definitely the most excited I’ve been to get back and get started, for sure,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that because of what happened to me last year and how we did last year, the whole combination of things.”
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