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SF@SD: Pence pounds a three-run shot to put Giants up

SAN DIEGO -- Saturday night's 7-3 loss to the San Diego Padres reminded the Giants that they have an extremely important project to work on in the handful of days remaining before they enter the postseason: Fix Madison Bumgarner.

The Giants' pitching inspired awe when the club won the World Series two years ago. Tim Lincecum won the opener of each postseason round, as well as the Game 5 World Series clincher. Matt Cain allowed no earned runs in 21 1/3 postseason innings. Neither did closer Brian Wilson as he collected six saves in 10 appearances.

And then there was Bumgarner, then 21 years old. He went 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA in four postseason appearances, astounding observers by pitching eight shutout innings in Game 4 of the World Series.

Bumgarner would be challenged to duplicate such feats these days, because he's still struggling with his pitching mechanics. The left-hander simply felt out of sync while allowing five runs (four earned) in four innings against the Padres, which drove him to distraction at Petco Park.

"I'm not going to say that was the whole problem. But I definitely could have helped myself by not thinking about mechanics when I'm out there," said Bumgarner (16-11).

Facing a short five-game Division Series against a formidable opponent, whether it's Washington or Cincinnati, the Giants can ill afford a sub-par outing from any of their starters. Thus, expect Bumgarner to work extensively with pitching coach Dave Righetti before his likely start in Game 2 of the Division Series next Sunday.

"I'm not worried about anything," Bumgarner said. "I've got plenty of time to work on it. I have to be able to make pitches when it counts."

Though this was Bumgarner's final regular-season start, Giants manager Bruce Bochy didn't rule out using him for an inning or two of relief, probably Wednesday, to keep him sharp. Bumgarner also might throw an extra between-starts bullpen session to address his flaws.

"I make a pitch one time," Bumgarner said, "and the next time I don't."

Yielding the longball, which nagged Bumgarner this season, again plagued him against the Padres. With San Francisco clinging to a 3-2 lead that Hunter Pence provided with a first-inning, three-run homer, Bumgarner surrendered three third-inning runs on homers by Chase Headley, a two-run drive, and Jesus Guzman, a two-out poke.

Bumgarner has permitted 23 home runs, compared to 12 last year. Predictably, 18 of those homers occurred on the road, away from the pitcher-friendly environs of AT&T Park. "Just bad pitches" was how Bumgarner explained his long-distance rate increase.

Bochy remained supremely confident in Bumgarner, who established a personal high for innings (208 1/3) and matched last year's strikeout total (191).

"At his age, to be where he's at, it's impressive," Bochy said. "You're going to have off-nights."

The Giants, who had won 13 of their previous 16 games, endured an off-night at the plate, mustering five hits after Pence's 23rd homer of the year pushed his season RBI total to 102. Buster Posey went 2-for-2 with a walk before leaving the game in the sixth inning, increasing his National League-leading batting average to .337. And Marco Scutaro singled in four at-bats to extend his career-best hitting streak to 17 games.

Pence, of course, was a source of encouragement. He has driven in 43 runs in 55 games as a Giant despite hitting only .224. The Giants will need even more production from Pence, particularly if they want Posey, who bats in front of him, to keep seeing hittable pitches.

"I'm going to continually try to get better," Pence said, adding that his swing "feels strong. Every time I go up there, I feel like I have the potential to do some damage. But also I want to have some more consistency with squaring the ball up. It's always a process. It's baseball. I'm never totally satisfied."

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