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D-backs manager Torey Lovullo letting starting pitchers sort out struggles

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Robbie Ray throws to the plate during the second inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Monday, April 17, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LISTEN: Torey Lovullo, D-backs' manager

Robbie Ray’s jittery first few innings of pitching Monday night might exemplify the benefits of his skipper staying off the phone line.

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo has told his starting pitchers they won’t be getting a lifeline this year. He wants six or seven innings a night out of his rotation, and if it comes after a difficult inning or two, so be it.

“I wanted to make sure that instead of looking for somebody else to come in and pick up the slack for them that they were going to be conditioned for those moments and pitch into the sixth and seventh inning,” Lovullo told Burns and Gambo Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “I’m asking for our starters to go 21 outs.”

It’s a matter of building confidence.

On Monday, Ray threw 48 pitches in the first two innings and recorded three walks in that span. He gave up a home run to begin the fourth inning but went through six frames to strike out 10 in what became a 4-2 Arizona win over the Dodgers.

Maybe it was only coincidence, but Lovullo’s philosophy is about empowering his starting pitchers to find their ways out of trouble.

Then it’s about recovering.

Ray certainly did that in a hurry. He struck out six straight following the home run allowed to the Dodgers.

“The starters have the ball in their hands from the largest period of time,” Lovullo said. “We can’t do much without them. If they’re pitching four or five innings, sometimes six innings at a time, that is going to tax our bullpen. I wanted to give them the feeling that I was behind them, that there wasn’t going to be any rustling in the dugout or the bullpen when there was a little bit of traffic in the first couple of innings.

“It’s them. It’s theirs. They gotta figure out how to get through it, figure out how to walk through it and the best things are gonna come out of that, and that’s my innate belief.”

KEEPING FERNANDO FRESH

Closer Fernando Rodney has five straight saves and a win in seven appearances so far.

He also has a 0.1-inning performance that included three earned runs on his 2017 resume thus far. That game, an 8-4 Saturday loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, saw Rodney replace reliever J.J. Hoover with two outs into the eighth.

Asked if the move was based on analytics, a gut feeling or all of the above, Lovullo explained that the decision had to do with his plan to keep Rodney tuned up.

“It didn’t turn out anything like I envisioned or I wanted to. It started with a conversation with Fernando I had in spring training,” the D-backs skipper said. “He doesn’t like going more than three days — he doesn’t like four days off.”

Rodney had been in ice for the three days prior, and the gameplan was for him to pitch get one batter of work on Saturday.

“Fernando wants and asks for one batter to stay sharp and stay effective,” Lovullo said. “That’s the one thing that I’ve been talking about since Day 1. I want to listen to these guys. I respect their opinions. Of course I was going to listen to him and give him that one batter. It just backfired.”

Lovullo said the gameplan did help Rodney perform the next two days. He closed a 3-1 win Sunday and 4-2 victory over the Dodgers on Monday without giving up a hit.

However, the Diamondbacks have altered their handling of Rodney moving forward.

“The conversation changed a little bit,” Lovullo said. “We’re going to change the script a little bit. We’re going to find a way to keep him sharp, keep him used and inline maybe a little different way or two.”

However, if Rodney happens to take more than four days off, a brief non-closing appearance might be needed, the manager said.

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