Bergmann Can't Keep It Going
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Though it lasted just 56 minutes, Jason Bergmann's performance last night illustrated several of the chief occupational hazards found in professional starting pitching, seeing how the right-hander spent the evening ducking line drives at his head, dodging screamers at his ankles and, most of all, wrestling with the weight of his own ineffectiveness.
By the time it ended, just three innings into the San Francisco Giants' 10-1 thumping of the Washington Nationals, Bergmann (1-3) sat on the Nationals Park dugout bench, talking to nobody. He was caked in sweat. His eyes narrowed with disgust. If nothing else, the foremost danger of pitching -- that is, heading to the mound on a day when your ability doesn't follow you out the front door -- had raised his ERA (from 4.50 to 5.23), guaranteed his team its fifth loss in six games and vaporized any momentum from a dramatic win 24 hours earlier.
Bergmann's final line from a game in which nothing aligned: 3 innings pitched, 10 hits, 8 runs (5 earned), 2 walks, no strikeouts and one final ignominy. His night officially ended at 8:32, when, in the bottom of the third, the Nationals waved a 5-foot-11 white flag into the batter's box. Pitcher Tim Redding stepped in as a pinch hitter and struck out on four pitches.
"He just didn't have it. Nothing," Manager Manny Acta said of Bergmann. "His curveball was kind of his best pitch, and he didn't throw it that much. We knew from the beginning, I could tell, that he didn't have it. He had a rough outing, and he just picked the wrong night to have it -- after a doubleheader, and after an emotional win."
Not even the most distant bloodline could connect the Bergmann of yesterday with the pitcher who had dazzled, exclusively, in May. In four previous starts dating from his recall from Class AAA Columbus, Bergmann had become the pitching staff's heavyweight, capable of showdowns with opposing aces such as Cole Hamels and Ben Sheets and Brandon Webb. His ERA since his big league return was 1.30. Batters had just a .190 average against him. He'd allowed just four earned runs the whole time, with 30 strikeouts and one complete game.
Bergmann didn't finish this game, but only in a technical sense. In the sense that he ensured its outcome, he finished it with dashing proficiency.
In both the second and third innings, Bergmann backed himself into trouble. Both times, the first two Giants to the plate slapped hits. Bergmann picked his way through the bottom of the San Francisco order to dodge major damage in the second inning, but the next time around, he lacked the same fortune.
Without the service of an accurate slider, he threw too many fastballs.
Without the service of a satisfactory variety of pitches, he failed to strike batters out.
Without the service of strikeouts, Bergmann allowed balls in play. Which, on this night, meant a lot of hard-hit balls. Even three of his nine outs were line drives.
"Well, I didn't pick up the team; I really didn't," Bergmann said. "I let the bullpen down, because everybody fought their tails off [in the] doubleheader, and I had to come out and give a good effort. And I didn't have it. It just seemed the game plan we had was exactly their hitting plan against me."
In the third inning, everything unraveled. Randy Winn, Bengie Molina and Ray Durham had singles. The fourth hit of the inning, from Omar Vizquel with two outs, started as a Bergmann change-up and nearly ended as a Bergmann decapitation: The pitcher ducked just as the ball lasered past his hat. That loaded the bases, which is generally a bad time to walk the pitcher. While Tim Lincecum walked to first, having looked at a close (but outside) full-count offering, Acta trotted to the mound.