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D-backs’ starter Luke Weaver focused on extinguishing ‘big innings’ in 2019

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Luke Weaver throws against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning of a spring baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz., Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Arizona traded away Paul Goldschmidt in December, the Diamondbacks lost a bat, but gained an arm in starting pitcher Luke Weaver.

Pair that with the team losing starters Patrick Corbin and Clay Buchholz through free agency, Weaver factors to be an important piece to Arizona’s future moving forward.

No pressure.

In his first spring training with the D-backs, Weaver is getting used to his new surroundings while also working on limiting the damage when innings go awry, something that has plagued the pitcher at times in his career.

Saturday’s matchup against the Kansas City Royals provided the latest test.

Staying on track with the team’s progression plan with the starters through the spring, Weaver went 3.1 innings on 60 pitches (41 strikes), allowing six hits and an earned run. He also struck out three batters.

“I definitely had to work for it,” Weaver said Saturday after his outing. “Obviously the pitch count got up there a little bit, but you have those games you kinda just try to minimize that damage and that was a big part of last year. Sometimes those innings would get away from me.

“I think today was a huge step in just kinda controlling the situation, throwing some good pitches and letting that defense work a little. So there’s a huge plus in that.”

The Royals got on Weaver from the start as former D-back Chris Owings only needed five pitches to get on base with a leadoff double. He would later score in the inning off a Ryan O’Hearn groundout.

But instead of letting the fire grow, Weaver hung in, putting out the flames before the offensive explosion could take shape.

“Your blood pressure starts to rise a little bit and the game just speeds up on you, everything just kinda moves so just being able to step off breathe a little bit and realize, ‘OK what’s the execution need to be right here. Do I need a strikeout or a ground ball?'” Weaver said when asked about what he thinks about when batters start getting on base.

“Just kinda pre-planning, trying not to just go up there and strike everybody out because that’s when you’re going to lose counts and walk them and stuff’s just unraveling. Breathing, just trying to be in the moment, taking my time and it worked out today, so just building off of that.”

Bench coach Jerry Narron, filling in for Torey Lovullo as half of the team traveled to Monterrey, Mexico for a game against the Colorado Rockies, credited Weaver — and an inside influence — for his composure.

“One thing I saw was that when he got guys on base he didn’t panic,” Narron said after the game. “He was able to work out of some jams and I think watching [Zack] Greinke pitch a couple days ago might have helped because Greinke got in trouble the same way and was able to pitch out of it and Weaver did the same thing today.”

Greinke’s last outing had some similar signs to Weaver’s as Greinke had to rely on secondary pitches to get out of jams. It’s worked well so far for the ace as he’s allowed just one hit and no runs through two spring training starts (4.0 IP).

As a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, blow-up innings were Weaver’s kryptonite.

In 2017, the pitcher compiled a winning 7-2 record, but gave up 12 earned runs on 12 hits in a combined 8.0 IP in the two losses. In the defeats, the 25-year-old allowed two four-run innings and one three-run.

The following season, Weaver’s record took a hit as the pitcher’s winning percentage dropped from 77.8 percent to 38.9 percent (7-11) was big innings continued to rear their ugly heads.

And while Weaver would like to have those outings back, he’s taken his previous mistakes and learned from them.

The D-backs took notice too.

“It’s nice, he’s great, very athletic for one thing so that gives him a chance to really help himself,” bench coach Jerry Narron said pregame. “Just seeing him against us a couple times we knew he had a good fastball and had some different pitches he could locate and we’re looking forward to really pitch in the season, getting going with him and just get him out there a full day. He’s going to help us.”

BASE HITS

– After scoring just one run through five innings, the D-backs’ bats came alive to close out Saturday’s game. Behind a seven-run sixth inning, Arizona poured it on the Royals, taking home the 13-5.

A big reason of that was Nick Ahmed — and an extra at-bat.

“Nick Ahmed wanted another at-bat and stuck around for one more at-bat and had a big single there with bases loaded,” Narron said of the shortstop.

Ahmed finished the day going 2-4 with two RBIs and a run scored.

– Narron on Jarrod Dyson and T.J. McFarland:

“I think [McFarland] is going to throw some either tomorrow or maybe Monday or Tuesday for sure. Hopefully he’s going to get back throwing and as for a game, I don’t know, just getting him back out and throwing.

“And Dyson, hopefully by the middle of the week, he’ll be available to do something. He took BP today, he’s been running, shagging balls out there in the outfield. He’s a good player. Hopefully by the middle-end of the week he’ll be in a game.”

Narron added that Dyson “looked great” running balls down.

– Former D-backs utility man Chris Owings started off the day with a leadoff double before crossing the plate to give the Royals a 1-0 early on. Owings finished the day going 3-3 with an RBI and two runs scored.

– It was a day to forget for the Royals’ defense as it produced four errors in the loss.

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