SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- If you know anything at all about Madison Bumgarner, you know that stage fright won't be an issue for him when he confronts the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday at Chase Field, though it'll be his first career Opening Day start.
Bumgarner quickly displayed a flair for the dramatic as a professional. He made the most of his first Cactus League start in 2009, blanking the Dodgers on one hit through three innings and striking out Manny Ramirez on three pitches in the process.
The rookie performed like a veteran in the 2010 postseason, compiling a 2-0 record with a 2.18 ERA in four starts. He not only won the Game 4 clincher of the Division Series against Atlanta, but he also worked eight shutout innings in Game 4 of the World Series at Texas, leaving the Giants one victory from the franchise's first Fall Classic title in San Francisco. Moreover, Bumgarner logged seven shutout innings in a Game 2 win over Detroit in the 2012 World Series.
So given Bumgarner's extensive and successful experience on big stages, pitching a season opener shouldn't faze him.
"You want to get the season started on the right note, but it's not any different from any other game," said Bumgarner, 24. "Same mentality as always. It's just more of an honor to get to do it."
The Giants feel lucky to have Bumgarner to summon. He's the youngest member of San Francisco's starting rotation, and yet he has become he most consistent. Of his 31 outings last year, 22 were quality starts (performances lasting at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer allowed). He ended the season with a stretch of 19 consecutive starts in which he yielded three earned runs or less. He ranked third in the NL in opponents' batting average (.203), fifth in ERA (2.77) and tied for seventh in strikeouts (199).
Don't judge Bumgarner by looks alone. You see a big (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) country boy (residence: Lenoir, N.C.) and you might assume that he gets by just on brute strength. You'd be wrong. Bumgarner studies and tries to refine the subtleties of his game.
"He wants to get better and do things differently to make himself better, and I think it's showing up and it's great for him," fellow starter Ryan Vogelsong said. "He works hard on his delivery. I look forward to him having another great year."
To have that great year, some pitchers dwell on statistics in an attempt to find standards to match. Not Bumgarner. He said that after last season, which resulted in a 13-9 record and that career-best 2.77 ERA, he reviewed his statistics and ... that was all.
"I kind of went through, seeing where they were all at, and that was kind of it, really," he said. "I didn't think about it a lot more after that because you have to start preparing for a new year. What you did last year really doesn't matter now."
That inexhaustible drive almost guarantees that Bumgarner will continue to excel.
"It's always, 'Try to do better,' " Vogelsong said. "You always want to do better the next year. That's what drives us. You have a bad year, you want to do better. You have a good year, you want to do better. You can tell he wants to keep improving. He's not a guy who's going to rest on what he's done. That's one thing he's got in his corner already. He wants to be a better pitcher."
From the beginning, retiring the formidable Ramirez on strikes wasn't enough for Bumgarner. He needed more, such as the team-oriented triumphs he helped seal with his individual success.
"To watch him being the 'young gunslinger' that he came up as -- he came out swinging and winging it out," Giants closer Sergio Romo said. "The guy hasn't backed off from anything. He's confident, he's strong, he's getting better. He's figured himself out. He has become more of a complete pitcher. If I remember correctly, I think the rap on him when he first got drafted was that he was more of a thrower than a pitcher, although he came out of high school. It's hard to say you're a complete pitcher out of high school. But you cannot say that about that young man anymore."
Anybody trying to project the heights to which Bumgarner might soar can let the imagination roam.
"I don't think you can put limits on him right now," Vogelsong said. "It seems to me that he's going to be able to do what he wants to do. I think if you're him, that has to be exciting. It's definitely something I would have liked to have at 24."