Bumgarner Leads Trend: Big League Pitchers Who Can Hit
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
If you are watching or listening to a Major League Baseball game, the best moment to grab something from the fridge or run to the bathroom might be when a pitcher comes up to bat. Pitchers just aren't good hitters - or so we thought. Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants did this last weekend against the Washington Nationals.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Bumgarner hits a high drive left field. This one is gone.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Well that's an exclamation point for a great game for Bumgarner, his fourth home run of the year. Yeah, he's the best hitting pitcher. That was a shot.
GREENE: This could be part of a trend. Big league pitchers are hitting more home runs than in the past, especially in the National League, the only league that forces pitchers to bat. San Francisco Giants' play-by-play announcer and all around baseball guru John Miller said this isn't all that surprising.
JOHN MILLER: All the guys who are pitchers, when they played Little League and maybe even in high school, they were excellent athletes and not only could pitch but they played the field. And they were, in many cases, the best hitter on their teams there as well.
GREENE: This changes, though, when pitchers become pros and work their way through the minor leagues. They become specialists fine tuning their craft. If you're a starting pitcher, you're actually only throwing in a game once every five days or so. But there's a lot to worry about in between, leaving little time to practice swinging the bat.
MILLER: Pitching, you think of the arm, and that's very true. But the big aspect of pitching that is so critical are the legs, the base for the pitcher. And they run every day. They do a lot of calisthenics and starting and stopping and wind sprints and that sort of thing. They will throw on the side. They do their bullpen session in between. So they do a lot of work in between starts. And then there's Madison Bumgarner, with the Giants, who actually is one of those guys who can hit a little bit, who has also been getting some calls here lately to hit as a pinch hitter for the Giants. So he's been especially working hard, even when he's not pitching.
GREENE: Why is this happening this year? Why do we see Madison Bumgarner and some other National League pitchers who seem to be hitting more home runs these days? I mean, is National League pitching getting worse? Are there some pitchers now who are just sort of showing their athleticism more?
MILLER: Well, I wouldn't say that it's really become a huge trend. Bumgarner's for four home runs, and he hit five last year. He's the best hitting pitcher I think in baseball, especially when it comes to power. But Zack Greinke of the Dodgers has hit a couple of home runs lately. And I think when you look at the batting averages for these guys, then you realize we're still talking about a different class of hitter than the guys who are the regular, everyday players.
GREENE: You know, I was at a Pirates game in Pittsburgh a couple weeks ago. And the Pirates were down. Their pitcher, A.J. Burnett, came up, hit a home run. And it really sparked a comeback. I mean, the Pirates came back, beat the Cardinals. The team seemed to really rally around Burnett when they saw him hit that home run. Does it do something emotionally to a team when they watch their pitcher do something like that?
MILLER: Yeah, I think so. The whole Giants crowd was energized the other day when Bumgarner pitched in San Francisco. And he hit a home run. He also hit a double and knocked in a run. And he pitched just an incredible game, a shutout, with 14 strikeouts. And it turned out he was the second pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball - Juan Marichal, another Giant, was the only other ever to have hit a home run in a game, have 10 or more strikeouts and pitcher shout-outs. So I think his teammates were energized by him. And the fans love it. He came in as a pinch hitter in St. Louis a couple of days later. And that's not the norm. And they brought him in with two down in the ninth inning, down by a run. And his manager, Bruce Bochy, just said, well, I looked at what I had left on the bench, and the one guy who had the best chance of hitting a home run to tie the game up for us was Madison Bumgarner. And that's what we needed, and that's why I put him out there.
GREENE: And what happened?
MILLER: Trevor Rosenthal.
GREENE: Cardinals closer.
MILLER: Struck him out. There was no joy in San Francisco.
GREENE: John Miller, I hope you enjoy the series between the Giants and Pirates in Pittsburgh.
MILLER: All right, all the best.
GREENE: John Miller, the voice of the San Francisco Giants. He is in Pittsburgh, where Madison Bumgarner will pitch tonight against the Pirates, hopefully giving up home runs and not hitting them. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.