Diamondbacks still sorting out Opening Day battery
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Last season, when the D-backs had Zack Greinke on the mound, the catcher almost exclusively was Jeff Mathis.
On Sunday, as Greinke took the mound for the D-backs at Salt River Fields in a Cactus League game against the White Sox, Mathis wasn’t there, having signed in the offseason with the Texas Rangers. Manager Torey Lovullo will have to figure out who, if anyone, will be a “full-time catcher” for Arizona’s ace this year.
The catcher for Greinke on Sunday was Alex Avila, but Lovullo said that’s not an indication of what’s to come.
“I try to get every pitcher to throw to every catcher,” Lovullo said. “So, I’m just winding that down right now and I try to get every catcher to throw with every relief pitcher, too. It’s a little bit of a challenge. So I move guys around based on that, so as far as looking into Avila with Greinke — or I know the last time it was John Ryan [Murphy] with Greinke — at this point, there’s really no connection.”
In Sunday’s game, Greinke went 5.2 IP, allowing three earned runs on seven hits, two walks and six strikeouts.
“One guy is always ideal, but I like offense,” Greinke said. “If it makes a lot of sense to do a lefty-righty platoon, then I like scoring runs, so that’s fine too.”
While Greinke pitched in Scottsdale, Robbie Ray started for the D-backs in their split squad game in Surprise against the Rangers. That gives Lovullo flexibility to choose either pitcher to start Opening Day, which is 11 days away (eight games sit between Sunday and the regular season).
“We feel like we have a couple of really good candidates and we just want to hit it right,” Lovullo said on Saturday. “We want to make sure whoever gets that nod is going to give us the best chance to win the game.
“And it’s a tremendous honor and it’s something we’re going to pay close attention to and we’re not going to take it lightly because it’s a special for that guy that gets the Opening Day start.”
Greinke, who has the highest average annual salary in the major leagues, did not start Opening Day last season because of an injury that set back his training schedule. Instead, it was Patrick Corbin — but Greinke went on to post a 3.21 ERA, pitch 207.2 innings and make the NL All-Star team.
Ultimately, the decision of whether Greinke gets his own exclusive catcher will be Lovullo’s final call, but of course, Greinke will have significant input on that. It will take conversation for the two sides to reach a conclusion.
“I do know this: He said he feels comfortable throwing to all the guys,” Lovullo said. “I don’t love the idea of having somebody throw to one guy all the time. But in this particular case, Zack is a very gifted pitcher and I want to make sure he gets on the most comfortable page possible. We may do what we’ve done over the past couple years. One guy may get the workload.”
The D-backs have yet to finalize whether they’ll even carry three catchers on their roster, a decision that consequently may limit the options Greinke has for his battery mate. Beyond Avila and Murphy, Carson Kelly would seem like the strongest candidate to make the major league team, but Caleb Joseph is a viable choice as well.
As for the team’s other starting pitchers, Lovullo said they haven’t necessarily been as emphatic about expressing their preference for having just one catcher to work with. But still, Ray connected with Chris Herrmann two years ago and the team went with that for a while. There have been other examples, too, of starters having an established relationship with one backstop.
“Zack is very unique. Zack has a process and a plan and a strategy for everything, which I really, really appreciate, and we connect at a pretty good level,” Lovullo said. “So I know he trusts me as much as I trust him, so I’m willing to listen to him. A lot.”
First baseman Jake Lamb exited the game after three innings due to back tightness. He had one at bat, going 0-for-1.
“He has just some back tightness, and just for precautionary reasons, I elected to take him out of the game,” Lovullo said. “He came and talked to me, and I just thought at this point, it’s not worth it. He’s going to come in tomorrow, get re-evaluated, I can’t predict how much time or if there’s time, but we’re going to see what’s going on over the next couple of days.”
Jarrod Dyson (oblique) played his first game of the spring on Sunday by taking over as a defensive substitute in right field in the fifth inning. Dyson had two plate appearances and walked both times.
JONES MAKING PROGRESS
New D-backs outfielder Adam Jones played in another backfield game on Sunday and had a single with a sacrifice fly. Lovullo and the coaching staff is considering having him play in his first Cactus League game as soon as Tuesday, but that’s not been finalized.
SHERFY SENT DOWN
Relief pitcher Jimmie Sherfy, who was optioned to Triple-A Reno on Friday, needed to work on “fastball command, finishing pitches, consistent arm slots,” Lovullo said. His velocity was also down some, so he can work on all of those things by being in Reno. Lovullo added that “him going down is not necessarily something we wanted.”
Sherfy has a career 1.00 ERA in 27 regular season innings in the major leagues. In his debut season in 2017, he didn’t give up a run in 10.2 regular season innings but allowed four runs in one postseason inning. He made 15 appearances for the D-backs last year.