D-backs show win-now focus by moving off Madison Bumgarner

Apr 20, 2023, 5:53 PM | Updated: 5:58 pm

Manager Torey Lovullo #17 of the Arizona Diamondbacks takes Madison Bumgarner #40 out of the game d...

Manager Torey Lovullo #17 of the Arizona Diamondbacks takes Madison Bumgarner #40 out of the game during the seventh inning against the Miami Marlins at Chase Field on May 10, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen saw the competitiveness his team played with over the first three weeks of the season and knew he had an obligation to follow suit.

Madison Bumgarner allowed five or more runs in three of four starts to begin the season, all of which resulted in losses. The D-backs entered Thursday 10-5 in games he has not pitched in and 11-8 overall atop the National League West.

Bumgarner’s three-inning, seven-run outing on Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals doomed his D-backs tenure, as the organization let the veteran know he would be designated for assignment that evening.

“I ask our players and staff to have urgency around how we’re going to play and attack,” Hazen said in a press conference on Thursday. “I have to do the same thing. I can’t be a hypocrite, to ask for that and not do it in my job. That was part of the reason we made a decision.”

Manager Torey Lovullo said he feels and appreciates the urgency placed on the staff to win this year, noting the need to avoid complacency.

There was discussion on a potential bullpen move for Bumgarner, although the D-backs decided that was not the ideal fit. Arizona has three lefties it trusts in Andrew Chafin, Joe Mantiply — who returned from the injured list this week — and Kyle Nelson.

The move allowed the D-backs to turn to younger options in the rotation, and the organization decided to move forward for the time being with Tommy Henry. Arizona’s top-ranked pitching prospect Brandon Pfaadt was a consideration, while veteran Zach Davies will be back from his oblique strain in “weeks,” as Hazen put it.

Hazen said even if the D-backs started slowly but had their current options available to them, he likely would have made the same choice. But Arizona’s start, including standout performances from the rest of the rotation, made it pertinent to find another solution.

“If I didn’t have somebody to take the ball five days from now, we may have continued down this road, but part of the calculus was we felt like there was somebody that needed to come up here and take that spot,” Hazen said.

“It’s gonna go like this at the deadline too, that there’s going to be a sense of urgency then because these guys are playing really hard and well, and they deserve to see us putting in that same degree of urgency that they are,” Hazen added.

Hazen said he and Lovullo wanted to give Bumgarner one more opportunity on Wednesday.

The GM felt Bumgarner did not perform poorly in his previous start against the Miami Marlins outside a five-run inning in a 5-1 loss. But Bumgarner’s 19 earned runs and four home runs allowed with 15 walks in 16.2 innings pitched through four outings was too much to keep going.

“These decisions are always hard on me, hard on the player and we did it for one reason, based on performance,” Lovullo said. “That’s what this game is. It’s all weighted on how you go out there and perform and help your team win games and (he) just wasn’t getting there on the level we felt was going to give us an opportunity to win every fifth day.”

There was no point last season at which the D-backs considered designating Bumgarner for assignment, Hazen said.

Bumgarner closed his D-backs tenure with a 5.23 ERA, the eighth-highest in MLB since his first season in 2020 (200 innings minimum). He entered Thursday one of three pitchers owning a WHIP of at least 2.40 to start the 2023 season with at least 10 innings of work.

His chase rate was at a career-low 16.6%, walk rate way up at 16.7% and velocity below 90 mph per fastball.

Hazen said a lot of sleep was lost in the organization trying to figure out what wasn’t working specifically, but he credited Bumgarner for continuing to work at his craft despite the lack of results.

Lovullo added that Bumgarner’s effectiveness in the pitching lab and bullpens did not translate to games.

“It just didn’t work out,” Hazen said.

The D-backs are still on the hook for $14 million next year. Hazen gave his recommendation to team owner Ken Kendrick and president Derrick Hall, who gave the go-ahead to cut ties.

That said, Hazen said it is not time to shy away from trying to bring in veteran free agents because the signing did not work. He said the D-backs will need to add outside talent to complement their young corps.

As for the clubhouse, Lovullo said he received messages asking how the conversation with Bumgarner went.

The move, in Lovullo’s mind, sent a clear message to the players not only in Arizona but on the cusp of the big leagues.

“We’re competing inside of a very, very rough division, we’re trying to make our way and show the rest of the league that we’re here and we’re ready to compete every single night,” Lovullo said.

“The players aren’t stupid, they understand what’s going on. And I think they probably are seeing that if the move was made, there’s a very good reason for it. … Messaging is a big thing in this game, and to send a direct message in this fashion is a little bit deeper.”

For what comes next, Henry’s pitching schedule lined up with Bumgarner’s rotation spot in a favorable way. Pfaadt is scheduled to pitch on Thursday, so calling him up would have either involved moving everyone in the starting 5 back a day or giving him extended rest early in the season, which were not ideal for Arizona.

Hazen said both starters are ready and will be needed this season.

The D-backs recalled LHP Anthony Misiewicz from Triple-A Reno on Thursday to add bullpen depth until that spot in the rotation comes up on Monday.

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