D-backs’ Steven Souza Jr. ‘going back to basics’ after forgettable 2018

Mar 14, 2019, 6:13 PM
Arizona Diamondbacks' Steven Souza Jr. watches his base hit against the Cincinnati Reds during the ...

Arizona Diamondbacks' Steven Souza Jr. watches his base hit against the Cincinnati Reds during the second inning of a spring baseball game in Scottsdale, Ariz., Monday, March 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Steven Souza Jr. last February, Torey Lovullo and the ball club knew he would be a good fit with his bat and his personality.

Coming off a 2017 campaign where he set career highs in almost every offensive category, Souza entered 2018 with his sights set high.

Unfortunately for the outfielder, and Arizona, Souza’s first season with the team was one to forget.

Injuries to his shoulder and pectoral, and the frustration that comes with them, plagued Souza for most of the season as he only played in 72 games. Souza recorded 53 hits, 29 RBI and five home runs in 241 at-bats.

Other than his 2014 season with the Washington Nationals, 2018 marked the worst season of Souza’s career.

But looking closer at the season, Souza did show signs of what he can bring to the table once healthy.

In the months of July and August, Souza averaged .276 from the plate, rattling off 42 hits, 26 RBIs and four homers.

So how does Souza take that small sample and extend it into this season?

According to D-backs manager Torey Lovullo, the answer is simple.

“I’ve seen [Souza] focus on himself and taking care of what he needs to do to get ready to go,” Lovullo said before the D-backs played the San Francisco Giants on Thursday.

“He’s an extremely compassionate guy and he’s a great teammate but I think for this time-being right now because the year he had last year that was built around frustration and injury that he needs to simplify it and go back to the basics and we’re watching him do that.”

In the D-backs’ 3-0 win over the Giants, Souza went 1-for-2 with a single and a walk.

And while the numbers don’t jump off the page, Souza showed good plate presence in his three at-bats, something Lovullo credited the outfielder with throughout the spring.

In his first appearance, Souza took two balls before turning on one that nearly went over the head of second baseman Joe Panik into the outfield. It was an out but a loud out.

He was quickly down 0-2 after fouling off two pitches in his next at-bat, but hung in, resulting in a walk. The third time was the charm as Souza didn’t wait long to connect with a single.

“Those are things we are watching and noticing that inside of each at-bat he’s engaged and doing a really nice job,” Lovullo said. “Like I said, last year was a very tough year for him and he shared a lot of frustration with me so we’re all behind him.

“We need him to have a big year and I think he’s ready.”

Entering play against the Giants, Souza had played in 10 games (24 at-bats), hitting .208 from the plate with five hits, two home runs and three runs scored this spring.

Christian Walker continues to impress

While Jake Lamb figures to get the majority of the reps at first base, don’t count out Christian Walker.

Entering play Thursday, Walker had compiled a .321 batting average and slugging .536 with nine hits, three of which were for extra bases, one homer and four runs scored in 32 plate appearances (11 games).

The first baseman has had a productive spring training and his play on the field hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“He smashed the ball a couple times today,” Lovullo said of Walker after the game. “He continues to be a very, very good bright spot for us on both sides of the baseball. I think defensively he’s made huge strides. Offensively, he’s got a great approach and he gets that foot down and those hands are firing forward he can drive the ball out of any part of the ballpark.

“He’s had a very consistent spring and that’s what we needed him to do. We’re really pleased with how he’s swinging the bat.”

Walker got off to a hot start in his first at-bat against Giants starting pitcher Dereck Rodriguez.

Leading off the second inning for the D-backs, Walker nearly went yard on his second pitch of the day. He settled for a standup triple and later scored off of an Alex Avila sac fly.

“Some really good situational hitting with a man at third base I thought that helped us score out first run, those are the little things we’ve been focusing on,” Lovullo said.

Walker followed that up with another big shot in the fourth inning, nearly bringing in Eduardo Escobar on a deep line drive to left field. The ball would end up out of play and Walker was credited with a ground-rule double, while Escobar had to go back to third base after initially crossing the plate.

The first baseman finished the day going 2-of-3 (.355) — with the triple and ground-rule double — and scored a run.


– Lovullo on starting pitcher Luke Weaver and the bullpen after the 3-0 win over San Francisco:

“Today was a good day for a lot of reasons. I thought Luke Weaver threw the ball exceptionally well today, five really solid innings, looked like the fastball-changeup combination was extremely effective. We stretched him out to certain point, he reached, he checked all his boxes today.

“We picked up the baseball, we pitched very, very well today. The three guys [Stefan Crichton, Braden Shipley and Michael Kohn] that came out of the bullpen were effective. I thought it was a good day.”

– Lovullo on MLB’s rule change:

“I really haven’t gotten the chance to dig into it and look at it. … Until it happens, we’re just going to continue on and do the things we’ve been doing here. And if it does happen and it does come up that these are going to be official rules, we’re going to play within the rule book and play within the guidelines. … Sometimes it’s a little adjustment, but there’s some new normals in this game now, such as the mound visits.

“It was a little different last year but we adjusted to it and I remember years back when instant replay came in in ’14. It was like a shock to the system but it’s second nature right now.”

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