Are the Diamondbacks close to pulling the plug on Madison Bumgarner?

MIAMI — Left-hander Madison Bumgarner took the mound for the Diamondbacks on Friday night and the results were not good. He gave up loud contact. He struggled to get swings and misses. Five runs scored on his watch. His performance in a 5-1 loss to the Miami Marlins was not too dissimilar to most of his outings dating to the second half of last season.

It is a prolonged stretch of ineffectiveness that begs a question. Despite a storied career, despite tens of millions in salary still owed to him through next year, how much longer will the Diamondbacks continue to give him the ball?

Manager Torey Lovullo tried to downplay the idea of the Diamondbacks pulling the plug on their veteran starter, but it is hard to believe the organization is not at least considering the possibility.

After watching Bumgarner give up five runs in five innings to the Marlins, who entered the day with the worst offense in the National League, Lovullo was asked where the club goes from here with its struggling pitcher.

“The same direction that we’ve been going in,” Lovullo said. “Just keep going out there and giving him an opportunity to win baseball games. That’s what he’s here to do. That’s all he wants to do.”

The question was put to him more directly: Is Bumgarner’s rotation spot a topic of conversation?

“For me, right now, no,” Lovullo said.


Bumgarner made it sound like the injured list could be another possibility. Because his regular turn in the rotation had been scheduled for Wednesday, Bumgarner was asked if the extra time had been beneficial and if he had at least felt good physically. His answer hinted at an injury, though he would not go into detail.

“There was a lot going on in between the last start and this one,” Bumgarner said. “It wasn’t quite as smooth as it may have looked just getting a couple of extra days. There was a lot of stuff going on. I’m not going to tell you all the stuff going on, but it wasn’t just an ordinary, ‘Here’s a couple of extra days.’”

He brought up the issue again several questions later when the topic turned to what he needed to do to get back on track.

“Just keep trying to make pitches and deal with the stuff we’re dealing with,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff moving in the right direction. I’m being very vague, I know. Sorry. But I think it’s moving in the right direction anyway.”

On Friday, Bumgarner watched a potentially solid start disintegrate during a five-run, 23-pitch fourth inning. He gave up consecutive singles to open the inning, then was on the verge of escaping after retiring the next two hitters.

The Marlins then collected four consecutive run-scoring hits from Jacob Stallings (single to center), Garrett Hampson (double off the wall), Jon Berti (double to left) and Garrett Cooper (single to center) to build a 5-0 lead. All of the hits Bumgarner allowed in the inning were hit 96 mph or harder.

“They came out aggressive that inning,” catcher Gabriel Moreno said through interpreter Alex Arpiza. “At the end of the day, you have to give the hitters credit.”

Through three starts, Bumgarner has allowed 12 earned runs on 18 hits and 11 walks in 13 2/3 innings. Over his previous 13 starts dating to July of last season, he has 7.28 ERA while allowing opposing hitters to post an OPS approaching 1.000.

In recent seasons, Bumgarner has been protected, in a way, by both the length and size of his contract and the club’s mediocrity.

With Bumgarner still owed $37 million over the rest of this season and next, cutting ties would represent a major financial hit for a club like the Diamondbacks. That said, the organization has made a similar move in the past under Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick: In 2006, the team ate $22 million to move on from right-hander Russ Ortiz.

Speaking with reporters last weekend, General Manager Mike Hazen seemed to suggest he was cleared to make that sort of move.

“We’ve never been asked to make decisions based on money or anything like that,” Hazen said, when asked if Bumgarner’s contract was a significant factor.

He added, “We need to win baseball games. We’re trying to win every single baseball game we’re going out to play. We want the five guys in the rotation to solidify those spots and give us some stability there. … We’ll continue to assess it as we go. But we need to win baseball games.”

Moreover, Bumgarner no longer is shielded by being on a noncompetitive team — or, at least, the organization’s expectations have changed when it comes to this season, in which it hopes to field a team that contends for a postseason spot. In that case, every game, every Bumgarner start, could be the difference between making the playoffs or not.

The Diamondbacks know this, of course, and it is probably no coincidence that the pitcher who looks to be the next in line to get a rotation opportunity, right-hander Brandon Pfaadt, started in Triple-A Reno on the same day as Bumgarner. Pfaadt gave up two runs in five innings against Sacramento on Friday night.

It is possible the Diamondbacks might be more willing to stick with Bumgarner because of a development elsewhere in the rotation.

Last weekend, right-hander Zach Davies strained his left oblique while delivering a pitch, an injury that cuts into the club’s rotation depth. Two years ago, the Diamondbacks went through a stretch in which four-fifths of their rotation was on the injured list, an experience Hazen has often referenced when it comes to the importance of starting pitching depth.

Bumgarner, at least, was looking forward to his next start.

“I just want to come out and give us a chance to win,” he said. “That’s it. It’s a long season and I’ve started off worse than this more than one other time. We’ve got a long ways to go.”

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Madison Bumgarner’s 2023 struggles raise question about pitcher’s future with Diamondbacks

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