Opening Night: Did Beer’s walk-off homer hide Bumgarner’s flaws?

PHOENIX – The end did not belie the beginning and the rise of perhaps legitimate concerns.

After Seth Beer’s dramatic walk-off, three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth powered the Arizona Diamondbacks to a 4-2, opening night victory over the San Diego Padres before 35,508 in Chase Field, the end clearly gained a priority moment. Though the Diamondbacks were listless for eight innings and managed two singles and seven baserunners through that time, Beer’s sense of theater pushed the previous eight frames comfortably into the background.

Still, the dramatics of the bottom of the ninth could not overcome possible concerns about Madison Bumgarner, the Arizona starter. Reading the tea leaves, the early exit of Bumgarner from the season opener Thursday night could portend significant “red flags” for both the rotation of the Arizona Diamondbacks and his effectiveness. Throughout Bumgarner’s effort in the opener, the 32-year-old veteran lefthander was hardly the leader the Diamondbacks anticipate nor anywhere the production level expected.

Exiting only three innings into the opener at home, Bumgarner labored through his outing and constantly pitched from behind. Afterward, he stressed the importance of avoiding big innings and would rather pitch around certain hitters.

“I didn’t want to give in to those guys today,” he said. “Just tried to keep making pitches and with the bases loaded (in the third inning) I didn’t want to give in. It was not the worst thing to walk a run in as opposed to giving up hard contact somewhere.”

The telling sign was a 42-pitch third inning. Here, Bumgarner uncharacteristically walked four in the inning and surrendered a run without a hit. With an elevated pitch count at 68 for his three innings, Bumgarner exited to the showers, and to his dismay.

“The third inning just didn’t work out for me,” he said. “This stuff happens but I feel ready good where I am at this point. Felt good about staying in the moment.”

The rotation, with Bumgarner laboring during his initial start of the season, could face dangerous consequences. Starters Zac Gallen and Luke Weaver, the latter who relieved Bumgarner in the fourth inning, are coming off injuries and Caleb Smith was a last-minute decision to fill a slot in the rotation. Sure, one game does not come close to defining the essence of a protracted, 162 schedule. In the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team coming off a horrendous 51-112 season, concerns, even this early, could become telling.

If Bumgarner struggled on the mound, Arizona hitters struggled at the plate. San Diego starter Yu Darvish had a no-hitter for his six innings of work. Lifted after those six and reaching a pitch count of 92, Darvish walked three and allowed only five balls hit in the air to the outfield. Darvish was effective with a cutter low in the strike zone and a fastball that hit the radar gun at 97 miles-per-hour several times.

Then, the ninth-inning heroics. After a wild pitch scored one with the bases loaded, Beer stepped to the plate with his team down by one, no outs, and runners on second and third.

“Things opened up when we scored on the passed ball (wild pitch from reliever Craig Stammen),” Beer said. “We scored a run there and told myself that made my job easier. I said if I can hit something to the outfield, we could score a run and tie it up. I barreled it up a little better than I was planning and wanted to help score that run. Just put a good swing on the pitch and it left the yard.”

At the plate, Beer said he hit a curve from Stammen and when he saw the ball elevated in the strike zone, Beer decided the drive the ball. That sent the crowd remaining in Chase Field into delirium.

Despite the dramatic ending, the essence of Bumgarner’s future value to the Diamondbacks could not be significant or influential. Still, one walk-off home run may not cloud the prominence of once was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game.

A new dawn in the National League … part of the recent agreement between the players association and Major League Baseball is a universal designated hitter. For the opening night Thursday, Lovullo selected infielder Seth Beer as the Diamondbacks DH and a new age in baseball commenced. “The DH is beneficial for me as a player,” Beer said before the opener. “For the National League, this will be huge. For guys who can hit, you get another spot on the field. Overall, I think this will be really good.” For his at-bat in the ninth inning, Beer said he “stayed in the moment,” and delivered at the most critical time of his young major league career. …   After 11 years managing the Oakland A’s, Bob Melvin is back in the National League. With five years guiding the Diamondbacks from 2005 to 2009, Melvin agreed to a three-year deal to manage San Diego. Immediately, Melvin is dropped into what many consider the most competitive division in baseball. “This is as tough as any division baseball,” he said prior to the opener Thursday night. “There are a couple of teams with over 100 wins last year in the division and we play them 19 times. I would agree (that the division is the most competitive) for sure.”

The opening weekend continues on Friday. Right-hander Merrill Kelly goes for Arizona and opposed by left-hander Sean Manaea. On Saturday, it’s righty Zack Davies making his Arizona debut against right-hander Joe Musgrove. For the series finale Sunday, left-hander Caleb Smith gets the ball for Arizona and left-hander Blake Snell goes for the Padres. After a day off Monday, the Houston Astros come into Chase Field Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. Then, the first road trip of the year to engage the Mets in New York for three and four in Washington.

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