San Francisco Giants: Bumgarner Pinch-Hitting Highlights Need for Depth


Earlier this week, I wrote about how good a hitter San Francisco Giants‘ ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner truly is. His great hitting ability prompted manager Bruce Bochy to drop hints that he might use Bumgarner as a late-inning pinch hitter. That left one to wonder if Bochy was really serious about that sentiment, or if he was just buttering up his dual threat pitcher. As it turns out, Bochy was very serious.

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On Tuesday, with the Giants ahead 1-0 in the seventh inning against the Cardinals, Bumgarner was called upon to pinch-hit. That worked to perfection, as Bumgarner lined a single into left field, becoming the first Giants’ pinch-hitting pitcher to collect a hit since Kirk Rueter, good old Woody, in 2004. He would end up scoring a very big insurance run.

The next night, Bumgarner was summoned again, with two outs in the ninth inning, and the Giants trailing by a run. It didn’t work out so well this time, as Bumgarner struck out swinging against Cardinals’ closer Trevor Rosenthal.

There’s a lot of risk with putting your star pitcher in that position. The risk is omnipresent when Bumgarner is listed in the starting lineup, but that’s unavoidable. He is just as likely to strain a hamstring or tweak an oblique while pitching as he is do to so while fielding his position or swinging a bat. But to have him hitting in situations like that is an added risk that could be seen as not worth it

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In actuality, Bumgarner was the Giants’ best pinch-htting option at that point in time on Wednesday. Hunter Pence was unavailable because of his oblique injury and Gregor Blanco had already been used, leaving only Ehire Adrianza, with a .196 average, and Ryan Lollis, who is one-for-10 in the big leagues.

That’s not entirely the team’s fault, either. Injuries have ravaged the starting lineup to the point that the players who are supposed to be available later in the game aren’t there, because they’re being forced to start.

Justin Maxwell is supposed to be the late-game power option off the bench, but he’s become an everyday player (again) because of Pence’s injuries. Angel Pagan‘s ongoing health concerns have put Blanco in the lineup everyday. Kelby Tomlinson, who should be a bench player at best at this point in his career, is now playing nearly everyday because of Joe Panik‘s bad back.

Some of those concerns will be assuaged, as Nori Aoki is expected to be activated before Thursday’s series opener, putting an extra bat back on the bench. Even with that addition, the Giants’ cast of understudies will still be much less than overwhelming.

Bumgarner being used in high-pressure situations should be a red alert to Bobby Evans and the Giants’ front office staff to make a deal happen to improve that bench.

The Giants missed out on Chase Utley, as he was dealt to the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, but according to ESPN’s Jim Bowden, the team is still in hot pursuit of other players who can contribute, mostly in the outfield.

As players, like Panik, Pagan, and Aoki, continue to trickle back onto the team, returning from stints on the disabled list, the bench will improve by proxy. Those starters who aren’t supposed to be starters will return to their bench roles, which will help. Even then, the bench will be less than scary. The best solution at this point, it seems, is to seek outside help.

It’s not as easy as it sounds to swing trades ahead of the waiver deadline. Teams put in claims to block players from going to opposing teams, teams pull players off waivers, and sometimes teams just aren’t willing to deal with everyone.

It won’t be an easy task to improve the bench right now, but it’s a task that seemingly needs to get done. When your best pinch-hitting option is your ace pitcher, that’s playing with fire. Evans needs to find an extinguisher to start battling the flames.

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