ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Starting pitching once again expected to lead Arizona Diamondbacks

Feb 16, 2018, 3:12 PM | Updated: Feb 18, 2018, 3:18 pm
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Greinke (21) throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers duri...
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zack Greinke (21) throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second inning of game 3 of baseball's National League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It’s an often-repeated phrase, cliché almost, but it’s been proven year after year: Pitching and defense win championships.

The Arizona Diamondbacks believe they’re ahead of the curve, at least on paper, when it comes to pitching. While the defense, especially in the middle, will be one of the team’s more scrutinized areas in spring training.

In 2017, it was pitching that predominately lifted the D-backs to the National League Division Series, ending a five-year postseason drought. The staff’s ERA was 3.66, the second-best mark in the league and the best-ever recorded in franchise history.

Digging deeper, the starting rotation — Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin and Zack Godley — logged the third-most innings and tied for second with 82 quality starts.

And that’s where it starts in 2018. Each member of the starting rotation is back.

“I’ve been on the record as saying that the starting pitchers were a very, very strong reason for the success of our organization last year. And to get all of those guys back healthy, ready, one more year experienced, is going to be a very good starting point for us,” manager Torey Lovullo said.

“But, as I mentioned to them (this week), it doesn’t mean we can jut go up to the starting line and run the race and expect to win. We’ve got to get back to who we believe and know that we are and I think that’s a good group to build around. We feel very good about our starters.”

Last season, Greinke, Ray, Walker, Corbin and Godley all pitched more than 150 innings.

Some of the highlights included:

*Greinke (17-7, 3.20) finished fourth in Cy Young voting. He went 8-2 in 11 starts following a loss and dominated the opposition at home, going 13-1 with a 2.87 ERA in 18 starts at Chase Field.

*Ray (15-5, 2.89) became a first-time All-Star, setting career highs in wins and ERA, while matching his career-high with 218 strikeouts. Twice, he had a pair of six-game winning streaks.

*Walker (9-9, 3.49) recorded a career-best ERA in his first season with the D-backs. Eight of his nine wins came against the NL West and over his final eight starts, he held opponents to a .093 average (4-for-43).

*Corbin (14-13, 4.03) tied his career high in wins, starts (32) and strikeouts (178). Following the All-Star break, he went 8-4 and held opponents to a .252 batting average.

*Godley (8-9, 3.37) set career highs in wins, starts (32) innings (155.0) and strikeouts (165).

“Everybody had their times when they carried us, and I think that was what made our staff very special,” Lovullo said.

With all five starters returning, plus Shelby Miller’s expected return mid-season, the D-backs go into 2018 feeling very confident in 1) who they are and 2) who they are compared to the rest of the division and National League.

“It’s huge to have all five guys back and healthy,” Ray said. “It starts at the top. Zack got us off to a good start and we all just built off of him. Him being the ace of the staff, he set the tone for us last year. It’s huge to have him back and everybody back and healthy.”

BASE HITS

Left-handed reliever Jorge De La Rosa is back. Signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training on Friday, De La Rosa gives the D-backs added bullpen depth.

“To get him back is pretty exciting for all of us,” Lovullo said. “Down the stretch he got some huge outs against some quality left-handed batters. We’re excited to have him back.”

De La Rosa went 3-1 with a 4.21 ERA and a .240 opponents average in a career-high 65 games last season, his first with the D-backs.

— The last two pitchers to step on the mound and throw a bullpen session did so on Friday. Right-handers Randall Delgado and Jimmie Sherfy “both felt fantastic”, according to Lovullo.

Delgado missed the last two-plus months with a right elbow injury, while Sherfy dealt with right triceps soreness late in the season.

They were the only pitchers to throw a bullpen as the D-backs held a light workout on Friday, choosing to work on the relationship between pitcher and catcher.

“It was very productive,” Lovullo said. “The catchers got a chance to get familiar with what some these pitchers do, some of their tendencies and some of their preferences; and it was just a good old-fashioned session between a pitcher and catcher without anybody really distracting them.”

— Position players are due to report Sunday, though many have already been spotted working out at Salt River Fields.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” Lovullo said.

Lovullo added outfielder Yasmany Tomas will be full-go, following offseason surgery to remove scar tissue in the same area as his previous core surgery in August.

“What I’ve been told is he’s cleared for all baseball activity, which is a very, very good sign. It’s been a long time since he’s been there,” Lovullo said.

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