Lovullo impressed by Flores, Marte handling shuffling; Walker progressing
PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks under manager Torey Lovullo and general manager Mike Hazen have created an identity of trusting depth and being OK with constantly shuffling lineups.
That’s been all well and good the past two years but this season is far different.
With no direct center field replacement for A.J. Pollock or Paul Goldschmidt at first, the D-backs have had to move guys around constantly to start the season.
The shuffling at first has expanded due to a Jake Lamb injury.
Wilmer Flores has started one game there and made four total appearances while also starting six times at second base.
Ketel Marte was the one making headlines in spring training for his transition to center. He has started seven games there and six at second, with Friday being his first day off of the season.
In five different games, Marte has moved from center to second or shortstop mid-game. Meaning he’s only played all nine innings in center for two of his starts.
Before Friday’s game against the Padres, Lovullo complimented both when asked how they’ve handled the shifting around on the short sample size 13 games in.
“I think it’s been very good,” he said. “Moving from position to position is not easy but [Flores has] done it over the course of his career and I think he’s been very good.”
As Lovullo notes, Flores is a proven commodity in doing so while Marte’s playing his first dose of major league ball in center. But Lovullo is encouraged by what he’s seen out of the 25-year-old in that spot.
“The one that I’m particularly impressed with has been Ketel,” he said. “Ketel’s numbers in the outfield are at least league average when it comes to breaks and routes and jumps and closing speed. At least average or above and that’s hard to do.”
Marte’s defensive runs saved in the short season is a plus-two, which is tied for sixth among the 37 centerfielders who have played at least 30 innings at the position this year, per Fangraphs. For ultimate zone rating, a similar advanced metric, Marte is fifth among that group.
“There’s such value to what he’s given us,” Lovullo said of Marte.
The D-backs will need their flexibility and have been fortunate with Adam Jones’ stellar play in right field filling in for Steven Souza Jr., who is out all season. For the time being, Jones has been outstanding, hitting .353 prior to Friday’s game against San Diego and has now played in all 14 games.
WALKER, MCFARLAND UPDATES
Taijuan Walker threw a 45-pitch bullpen session on Friday.
With Walker being placed on the 60-day injured list to start the season, his return can’t be until June, but Lovullo likes what he has seen in his road back from Tommy John Surgery he had in late April of 2018.
There’s always a variation of 12-18 months in returning from the surgery but Lovullo called him “right on schedule.”
Walker’s potential mid-season return would create an interesting decision-making process for Lovullo if the current trend of his rotation continues.
Through three starts, Zack Godley has a 7.41 ERA and Luke Weaver’s allowed seven earned runs through 9.1 innings. Godley was thought of as a solid option to lead the back-end of the rotation while Weaver is, along with Carson Kelly, the team’s main return in trading Goldschmidt.
Meanwhile, Merrill Kelly is fifth on the rotation and has a 2.57 ERA in two outings.
Walker was reliable in 2017 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts.
As for T.J. McFarland, they are targeting a 25-pitch outing in a simulated game at Salt River Fields.
McFarland has been on the IL since the start of the season for a shoulder injury.
Lovullo said he’s not sure if the left-hander could potentially return for the team’s upcoming 10-game road trip that follows the home series over the weekend with the Padres, which will take the team nearly into May.
McFarland is coming off a career year in 2018, giving up only 16 earned runs in 72 innings.