Searching for Madison Bumgarner's fastball

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Usually when a stud pitching prospect gets called up from Double-A just a month after his 20th birthday and throws 5.1 innings of two-run ball while making a spot start in place of the reigning Cy Young winner it’s cause for excitement, but instead Madison Bumgarner’s debut last night has people wondering what happened to his fastball.
Bumgarner has been an elite prospect since the Giants picked him 10th overall in the 2007 draft and his numbers in the minors are the stuff of video games set to “beginner.” He went 27-5 with a 1.65 ERA and 256/55 K/BB ratio in 273 innings prior to being called up, including 9-1 with a 1.93 ERA at Double-A this season.
Along with the first-round pedigree and insanely good numbers Bumgarner also comes with glowing scouting reports like this one from Baseball America: “There may not be a left-hander with a better fastball than Bumgarner’s. He hits 97 mph with minimal effort, consistently pitches at 93-94 and hitters have trouble picking up his heater from his high three-quarters delivery.”
Everyone who tuned into the Giants-Padres game last night expecting to see the 20-year-old phenom with a sub-2.00 ERA and mid-90s fastball instead saw a guy who topped out in the low-90s and worked mostly in the high-80s. There are reports that Bumgarner’s velocity has been dropping throughout the season and his declining strikeout rates back that up even if his sparkling ERA doesn’t.
Bumgarner struck out 187 batters in 166 innings between rookie-ball and Single-A, which works out to an outstanding 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. However, after moving up to Double-A he managed only 69 strikeouts in 107 innings, which equals just 5.8 per nine innings. He’s also seen his walk rate nearly double while serving up significantly more homers, including a pair of long balls against the Padres last night.
Rob Neyer of ESPN wonders if the Giants “have backed Bumgarner off his big fastball in favor of better control of his breaking ball and more consistency with his changeup” because “it’s hard to think a guy with a 1.85 ERA is hurt.” That makes sense to me, but it’s also possible that a pitcher who logged nearly 300 pro innings before turning 20 is simply fatigued and showing decreased velocity without actually being hurt.
Depending on Tim Lincecum’s back injury, we may have to wait until next season to find out.

Astros extend winning streak to 11 games

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The Astros rallied late to keep their winning streak alive, extending it to 11 games with a 7-4 victory over the Royals on Sunday afternoon. The club is now 48-25, leading the Mariners by a full game in the AL West.

The Royals took a 4-2 lead after three innings, but Brian McCann knocked in a run with a single in the top of the fourth to cut the deficit to one run. Carlos Correa hit a game-tying solo home run in the eighth. The Astros kept their foot on the gas, scoring two more runs on RBI singles from Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez in the top of the eighth and another in the top of the ninth on Correa’s sacrifice fly.

Starter Lance McCullers allowed four runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over six innings. Tony Sipp worked a scoreless seventh. Ken Giles did the same in the eighth. Hector Rondon finished off the win in the ninth, working around a one-out walk with a game-ending double play.

After winning all 10 games on their road trip against the Rangers, Athletics, and Royals, the Astros will head home for a nine-game homestand against the Rays, Royals, and Blue Jays. Each club is below .500.