Giants option Bumgarner to Triple-A

Giants option Bumgarner to Triple-A

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Madison Bumgarner's dizzying ascent through the Giants' system slowed to a more conventional pace Tuesday.

The Giants optioned Bumgarner to Triple-A Fresno, ending their top pitching prospect's bid to make the Opening Day pitching staff as the fifth starter. Bumgarner's demotion cements Todd Wellemeyer's status as the favorite to claim the No. 5 spot, though Kevin Pucetas has excelled and remains a viable candidate.

San Francisco also optioned right-hander Joe Martinez to Fresno, trimming the spring roster to 44.

Given his reputation, Bumgarner might have won the rotation competition with just a slightly above-average Cactus League performance. Instead, he lacked control and velocity while posting a 6.43 ERA (five runs in seven innings) in three Cactus League outings.

Ominously, Bumgarner walked seven and struck out none of the 35 batters he faced in exhibition games. He managed to strike out two while walking one in a four-inning effort in a Minor League intrasquad game last Saturday, though he yielded five runs (four earned) and five hits in four innings.

Bumgarner built his reputation by compiling a 27-5 record with a 1.65 ERA in 49 Minor League appearances since 2008 with low-Class A Augusta, high-Class A San Jose and Double-A Connecticut. Giants manager Bruce Bochy emphasized that Bumgarner must refine his offspeed deliveries and improve his command before he can rise from Fresno.

"He's 20 years old. We think a lot of him and he has a bright future," Bochy said. "But we think there are still some things he needs to work on. We did it now so he could go down in a little more relaxed atmosphere and get to where he needs to be."

Bochy noted that though Bumgarner looked sharper in his most recent throwing session off a bullpen mound, the Giants' braintrust doubts that he can improve enough in the remaining week before the Giants break camp to perform consistently on the Major League level.

"It's fair to say he was just out of sync for the most part this spring," Bochy said.

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Renowned for approaching 95 mph with his fastball early in his professional career, Bumgarner didn't display that velocity during a four-game stint with the Giants last September, though he posted a 1.80 ERA and struck out 10 in 10 innings. This spring, his fastball typically traveled around 88-89 mph.

Bochy downplayed Bumgarner's diminished heat.

"It's more important for him to control the ball," Bochy said. "He didn't have his good command this spring. Building arm strength is part of Spring Training."

Bochy acknowledged that the early-season schedule was a peripheral but not a primary factor in the Bumgarner decision. The Giants have scheduled off-days in seven of the first eight weeks, leaving the fifth starter vulnerable to being skipped on multiple occasions.

"We don't want [Bumgarner] up here sitting," Bochy said. "He needs to pitch on a consistent basis."

Bumgarner's equilibrium was rocked in late February when his half-sister, Dena Byrd, died suddenly in North Carolina. But Bumgarner insisted afterward that pitching was a sanctuary for him, and Bochy concurred that the rookie seemed fine.

However, Bochy suggested that Bumgarner may have tried too hard to justify his status as the 10th overall selection in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft -- the same spot where Tim Lincecum was chosen one year earlier.

"I do think he was pressing a little bit," Bochy said of Bumgarner.

Meanwhile, Bumgarner was eclipsed by Wellemeyer (1.20 ERA) and Pucetas (0.64 ERA), who have pitched five games each.

Bochy issued glowing remarks about Wellemeyer, stopping just short of handing the right-hander the No. 5 job. Wellemeyer's experience in the rotation and bullpen would seem to make him an ideal choice for the role, especially if the schedule prevents him from starting regularly and forces Bochy to use him as a long reliever.

"Todd's got the experience," Bochy said. "I'm very pleased with where we are with Todd. He's done a great job and has been a great acquisition."

Martinez, 27, has been hampered by inflammation in his throwing elbow and appeared in only one Cactus League game, allowing four runs and five hits in one inning on March 6 against Arizona. This contrasted with last year, when the unheralded rookie made the team out of Spring Training and was the winning pitcher on Opening Day.

"With the setback, there's not enough time to get Joe ready," Bochy said.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.