Madison Bumgarner’s nemesis hopes to become his teammate with Giants
AP Photo/Eric Risberg San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner walks near the mound after giving up a grand slam to New York Mets’ Justin Ruggiano, right, during the fourth inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in San Francisco.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It’s one of the tiny joys of spring training: an offseason acquisition enters the clubhouse, he’s had past success against a new teammate, and good-natured ribbing ensues.
But what if you’re Justin Ruggiano? What if you own three home runs in 14 at-bats against a certain Giants left-handed ace? What if your last encounter with him resulted in a grand slam?
Do you even make eye contact with Madison Bumgarner?
“I think I’ll hold off on that,” said Ruggiano, who will compete to make the Giants as a backup outfielder this spring. “I don’t know him that well.”
Ruggiano’s success against left-handers like Bumgarner is the reason he has a locker at Scottsdale Stadium, and it’s little wonder why the Giants brought scads of right-handed bench candidates to camp. Their lineup leans left, and by the way, so does the Los Angeles Dodgers’ rotation.
If Jarrett Parker wins a starting job in left field, the Giants will feature five left-handed batters in their everyday lineup. While they don’t plan to platoon at any one position, manager Bruce Bochy will look for ways to sprinkle another right-handed bat or two into his order on a given day against opposing lefties. Perhaps Michael Morse makes the team and spells first baseman Brandon Belt. Perhaps Aaron Hill or switch-hitter Jimmy Rollins is on the club to give second baseman Joe Panik a day off. More likely, Parker or center fielder Denard Span yields to a right-handed option such as Gorkys Hernandez or Ruggiano.
Hernandez is expected to be on the team because he is the most accomplished defender in center field, but Ruggiano might have the clearest avenue among the Giants’ non-roster invitees to crack the opening day roster because of his track record against lefties and his ability to play all three outfield spots.
Ruggiano’s bat would be an upgrade as a pinch hitter as well; the Giants have just one pinch homer by a right-handed batter over the past two seasons, and they were so thin on threats last year that Bochy employed Bumgarner’s bat off the bench a few times. Bochy even became the first manager since 1976 to give up the designated hitter when he kept Bumgarner in the lineup against a lefty starter for an interleague game at Oakland.
Even if it might cost him some pinch at-bats, Bumgarner has to like having Ruggiano on his side. The only major league hitter who owns more home runs against Bumgarner is the Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez, who has hit five in 56 at-bats. Ruggiano is 5 for 14 against Bumgarner and his three homers have come in three different uniforms: for the Cubs in 2014, the Dodgers in ’15 and the slam for the Mets in an Aug. 18 game at AT&T Park last season.
“I can’t say they’ve been easy at-bats,” Ruggiano said. “They’ve all been a challenge. It just so happens I’ve gotten three home runs off him. That’s not to say I want to make a career of facing him, because he’s pretty darn good.”
Bumgarner recalled the sequence he threw to Ruggiano last season: “It might have been a backdoor cutter, but I think I threw like, eight in a row to the same spot if I’m remembering it right.”
Pretty much, yep. It was six cutters, then a 3-2 curve that Ruggiano fouled off before sending the next cutter into the center field vegetable garden. The slam gave the Mets a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning. Bumgarner responded with a home run of his own in the bottom of the fourth, and the Giants rallied to win 10-7.
“I’m sure he sees me good for some reason,” Bumgarner said. “I’m sure I made some good pitches and some bad pitches, but I knew he had some success off me.”
So is it up to Bumgarner to break the ice?
“We’ll see,” he said. “Maybe I’ll have to go back and watch the tape before I do anything or not. I’m sure we’ll get to know each other pretty good, though.”
Ruggiano’s slam off Bumgarner came just a couple weeks after the Mets had acquired him for the stretch drive, but he wasn’t in the lineup to face the Giants’ ace in the NL Wild Card Game. That’s because he played just four more games for the Mets before going on the disabled list and then undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery.
The 34-year-old Texas native said he shouldn’t have any restrictions this spring, but Bochy plans to keep an eye on him.
“I think we still have to be smart about his playing time here early,” Bochy said. “I don’t want to hinder his chances to make this club, but I don’t want him to get set back, either.”
Ruggiano, who has an .865 career OPS against left-handers, is trying to appear with his eighth big league team. He has played for the Rays, Marlins, Cubs, Mariners, Dodgers, Rangers and Mets since his debut in 2007.
He didn’t waste time signing a minor league contract with the Giants, committing early in the offseason.
“The culture that this team portrays from across the field, as a visitor, you see that this organization does it right,” Ruggiano said. “To have the opportunity to be a part of that drew me to them. Aside from that, I really like playing in San Francisco. It’s just great energy in that city and that stadium.”
How about Ruggiano and Bumgarner hitting back-to-back shots? Now that would get AT&T Park rocking.