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Giants benefit from Bumgarner's rapid maturity

Giants benefit from Bumgarner's rapid maturity

SAN FRANCISCO -- Madison Bumgarner was the chief beneficiary of the decision to leave Barry Zito off the Giants roster for the first two rounds. And now he has a chance to give his club a commanding lead in the National League Championship Series.

The Game 4 start that likely would've been Zito's has come around again with the left-handed Bumgarner matching Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton in Game 4 on Wednesday evening at AT&T Park (4:30 p.m. PT on FOX).

Win and the Giants will go up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. Lose and it's 2-2 heading into Thursday night's Game 5. Bumgarner is well aware of the confidence the Giants and manager Bruce Bochy have placed in him.

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Tale of the Tape: NLCS Game 4
2010 Regular Season
Overall: 29 G, 28 GS, 9-6, 4.82 ERA, 43 BB, 134 Ks
Overall: 18 GS, 7-6, 3.00 ERA, 26 BB, 86 Ks
Key stat: 2.51 ERA in last five regular-season starts
Key stat: 1.13 ERA in Sept.
Postseason
2010: N/A
Career: 8 G, 5 GS, 2-0, 3.89 ERA
2010: 1 GS, 1-0, 3.00 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 3.00 ERA
At AT&T PARK
2010: N/A Career: 3 GS, 0-1, 3.57 ERA
2010: 8 GS, 1-3, 4.60 ERA Career: 9 GS, 1-3, 4.47 ERA
Against this opponent
2010: 1 GS, 1-0, 2.84 ERA Career: 7 GS, 2-3, 4.73 ERA
2010: N/A Career: N/A
Loves to face: Juan Uribe (1-for-11)
Hates to face: Freddy Sanchez (3-for-12, 3 HRs)
Loves to face: N/A
Hates to face: N/A
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Been there, done that
Why he'll win: Competitive rookie showed no fear in NLDS
Pitcher beware: Hasn't thrown since a one-inning outing on Oct. 3
Pitcher beware: His 4.60 ERA at AT&T Park this season is no home-field advantage
Bottom line: Savvy veteran
Bottom line: Beyond his years
"It's a huge honor," he said before Matt Cain and the Giants defeated the Phillies, 3-0, in Tuesday's Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the series. "I feel blessed even to have an opportunity to pitch in this series, and the last one, too. It's pretty awesome to get to do this and I'm looking forward to it. But that speaks a lot [for what they think of me]. It's a good feeling that [Bochy] has confidence in me and our team does also."

When Bochy decided to leave the veteran Zito off the roster, he did so because of the end-of-the-season pitching comparisons between the two men. Zito won one game after July 16 and the Giants lost nine of his last 10 starts. Bumgarner, in contrast, won his last two starts as the Giants battled the Padres toe-to-toe, winning the NL West against them at home on the regular season's final day.

Bumgarner's ERA for his last six regular-season starts: 1.18.

That set up Bumgarner for Game 4 of the Giants' NL Division Series on Oct. 11 in Atlanta. The North Carolina native, who was a first-round Giants pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, didn't disappoint as he threw six innings of two-run, six-hit ball. That kept the Giants in a game they won, 3-2, to clinch the series.

It also gave Bochy no qualms about starting Bumgarner again Wednesday. With Zito ineligible, his only other choice would be to bring Game 1 winner Tim Lincecum back on three days' rest. But Bochy likes what he sees in Bumgarner.

"I saw a kid that went out there and competed very well," Bochy said. "He had good stuff and was throwing hard. I've said this so many times about him since we brought him up here: For a 21-year-old kid, I just love the way he carries himself. He handles himself out on the mound, keeps his poise and competes very well. But he has good stuff to go with it and did a great job in that game."

It hasn't been an easy year for Bumgarner to reach this point.

Given a chance to earn the fifth spot in the rotation during Spring Training, Bumgarner couldn't cut it and was sent back to the Minor Leagues. The problem seemed to be a strange loss of velocity. When he returned to the Giants and the rotation for good on June 26, that problem seemed to be alleviated. He was 7-1 with a 3.16 ERA in 14 starts for Triple-A Fresno.

"It was just that my mechanics got off a little bit and weren't where they needed to be," he said. "It took me awhile to fix it because I never really worried about mechanics. I didn't focus much on them. I never really had to. I wish I would have because it took a long time to fix. I was trying to find anything; every week I had a different answer for what was going on. We just couldn't figure it out. Finally, I started making some adjustments this spring and I feel like I got to where I needed to be probably by the end of August."

Bumgarner came on just after Zito's season had crested. Zito's ended with a four-inning, four-run, four-walk loss to the Padres on Oct. 1 that put the division title in jeopardy heading into the closing day of the season.

It was the final blow for Zito and catapulted Bumgarner into prominence. Now it's his big game again to win or lose against a team he has never faced.

"I'll just try to throw strikes and get ahead of guys," he said about his game plan for Game 4. "I'm just going to go out there and try to throw quality pitches each time and see how it goes."

Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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