PHOENIX – Quality starts were few and far between for the Arizona Diamondbacks in their first seven series of the season.
Thus, very few of the team’s first 24 games were particularly winnable, as its respective starting pitcher was all too often digging his offense a hole too deep to climb out of.
But that trend has changed as of late and Brandon McCarthy was the latest member of the starting rotation to jump on board.
On Sunday versus the Philadelphia Phillies, the 30-year-old took the mound with an 0-4 record and a 6.23 ERA. You wouldn’t know it, however, from his proceeding performance.
Despite falling victim to a pair of run-causing misplays, McCarthy all but defined “quality” Sunday, striking out a career-high 12 opposing hitters while allowing just two earned runs in 7.0 strong innings.
“I was able to just execute a lot of pitches,” he explained after the game. “I had a lot of conviction.”
His offense, however, lacked both execution and conviction against Phillies starter A.J. Burnett, who tossed eight scoreless innings.
For the third time this season — and the second game in a row — the Diamondbacks’ offense squandered a rare quality start from a starting pitcher, going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position while tallying just six hits.
“This (was) a tight game, you’ve got to find a way to win it,” manager Kirk Gibson said after the game, repeating a familiar sentiment.
The Diamondbacks, now 8-20 and 1-10 in their last 11 games at home, have yet to win a series at home.
Their best shot so far came Sunday, when their starting pitcher struck out 12. But it was apparent almost from the get-go that they weren’t going to be of much assistance to McCarthy, who is now 0-5.
Following a leadoff single and stolen base from Phillies centerfielder Ben Revere, outfielders Cody Ross and A.J. Pollock combined on a misplay of Chase Utley’s lazy fly ball to left-center field. And with one away in the top of the first inning, the visitors were ahead 1-0.
“I think (Ross) got a bad break, maybe broke over to the side, thought it was going to go a little deeper — it was kind of off the end of the bat,” Gibson said of the play.
Later, in the sixth inning with Utley standing on second, rookie shortstop Chris Owings made an acrobatic diving stop to his right on Marlon Byrd’s sharply-hit low line drive. The 22-year-old promptly rose to fire to third baseman Martin Prado, who was in no man’s land away from third base.
Ultimately, the ball hit Utley in the forearm and skipped into the Diamondbacks dugout — scoring the Phillies’ second baseman and advancing Byrd to scoring position all on the play, which was ruled an error on Owings.
“(Owings) made a pretty good play but (Prado) didn’t get back to the base,” Gibson said. “And Utley actually veered out (to interfere with the play). That’s the kind of player he is. He got to a spot between Prado and the ball.”
Owings took the blame for the mishap after the game, saying his throw was offline, though adding that bench coach Alan Trammell — himself a four-time Gold Glover at shortstop — reassured him that it was the right play.
Both instances of the Diamondbacks’ continued fielding troubles proved incredibly costly on a day when runs were at a major premium.
“A couple of plays that we could hope we would make behind him,” Gibson summed up when discussing McCarthy’s outing.
Error aside, Owings showed to be McCarthy’s sidekick in the highlight department for the Diamondbacks Sunday. He made two excellent defensive plays, while knocking an opposite-field triple and an impressive, full-extension single pulled down the leftfield line.
Pitchers Oliver Perez and Brad Ziegler joined those two in the department, combining for two scoreless innings of one-hit relief.
The Diamondbacks have now been shut out four times this season. In 2013, their offense failed to score seven times.
McCarthy used a career-high 12 strikeouts to give the Diamondbacks their fourth quality start in as many games. He was highly effective throughout the game, retiring the last eight Phillies hitters he faced and walking just one. The runs that were earned against McCarthy both came on what appeared to be defensive misplays.
The right-hander’s strikeout total rung in as the most for a Diamondbacks pitcher since Ian Kennedy recorded 12 against the Colorado Rockies in June of 2012.
Martin Prado is mired in an ugly slump, hitting just .196 with a .212 on-base percentage since April 12. On Sunday, the Diamondbacks third baseman was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Prado has struck out 10 times in that span while walking just once.
On the year, Prado is hitting .234 with eight RBIs, five doubles and no home runs.
He Said It:
“We just need to get synced up and play a total game, you know — all aspects of the game. We (haven’t) been able to do that. This is a tight game; you’ve got to find a way to win it.” – Manager Kirk Gibson
• Owings is hitting 17-for-36 (.472) at Chase Field this season and he has a .389 career average at his home park
• The Diamondbacks are 1-10 in their last 11 home games
• The Phillies are 5-0-1 in their last six series versus the Diamondbacks
Left-hander Wade Miley (2-2; 4.50) will take the mound for the Diamondbacks in the first game of their series with the visiting Colorado Rockies, who will put Franklin Morales (2-1; 3.86) on the rubber.