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Pitcher Matt Koch makes a push for spot on D-backs’ Opening Day roster

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As spring training starts to wind down, decisions loom for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

While some players don’t have to fret about their spot on the Opening Day roster, others like pitcher Matt Koch are making the most of their time in March as the fight to make the roster brews on.

Against the Cubs on Saturday, the pitcher went 5.0 innings, allowing four hits and four earned runs. He also walked two batters and struck out two.

Though Koch took the loss in a 7-1 defeat to Chicago, he was positive about his performance.

“I felt really good, it was nice to get out there for five [innings],” Koch said after his start. “I felt good through all five. Just the leadoff walk kinda killed me in the fourth and overall I thought it was pretty good.”

Right out the gate, Koch found success. He struck out the first batter he faced and ended the first two innings on double-play balls, allowing just one hit through three innings.

But then came the fourth inning.

After walking the leadoff batter, the inning snowballed on Koch as the next two batters singled and doubled, the latter scoring two runs to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead with no outs. Another run would score before it was all said and done.

Koch returned in the fifth, allowing a home run before getting Chicago to hit into another double-play.

“Outside of the fourth inning it was exactly what we wanted to see from him and he was attacking hitters,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said after the game. “That fourth inning something changed with the sequencing and he was maybe starting to pick at the zone, started to throw some breaking stuff or secondary stuff early in counts.

“I think those are identifiable things because he was on the attack and I just felt like something changed for about a four or five batter period of time. And then he got back on track which was nice to see. For me, it’s a simple fix.”

Other than the down inning, Koch has shown signs of improvement through his spring training starts. Entering play Saturday, Koch was 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA. He had pitched 7.0 innings (one start, three games), allowing just two hits and one unearned run.

“I’ve been feeling good. I feel like the ball’s coming out well, everything’s coming together. Just got to get some tweaks here and there and everything will be a lot better,” Koch said.

“We’ve been working on a few things, I’m definitely a lot more comfortable mechanically and that could be another reason why.”

Last season with the D-backs, Koch started 14 of the 19 games he played, going 5-5 with a 4.15 ERA as he filled in the starting rotation with Taijuan Walker done for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and Robbie Ray dealing with an oblique injury.

Following his first 12 starts, Koch was optioned to Triple-A Reno in a move that was not considered a “demotion,” but more about the team’s schedule moving forward.

“He’s throwing the ball really well,” Lovullo said of Koch this spring training. “He’s in a very competitive atmosphere and he’s been standing on his stuff and doing his job. “We expect nothing less outta him. He saved us in several key situations last year and he’s picked up where he left off last year. It’s nice to see.”

While the jury’s still out as to who will solidify the starting rotation, Koch is eager to help anyway he can.

“Whatever it is I’m excited about it,” the pitcher said when asked about potentially coming out of the bullpen. “I’m just excited to hopefully be a part of the team and come in whatever role, whatever they want me to do, I’m willing to do.”

BASE HITS

– Lovullo on naming an Opening Day starting pitcher:

“We feel like we have a couple of really good candidates and we just want to hit it right.. 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 play 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. I realize that, I think the players realize that so we want to do as much as we possibly can before we make that decision. As far as watching and paying attention to the results.”

– The D-backs set a new attendance record at Salt River Fields Saturday with 14,035 spectators. The previous record was 14,002, set March 23, 2017 against the Cubs.

– Offensively, Ildemaro Vargas paced the D-backs. He had three hits and an RBI in four at-bats. John Ryan Murphy also chipped in two hits. Carson Kelly showed a good eye at the plate as he was walked twice.

– Lovullo on Yoshihisa Hirano:

“Coming in here last spring training, he was a little bit anxious and uptight but this year he’s a year into his career here in America and he knows exactly what he’s got to get to to make things happen the way we expect him to.”

– Lovullo on how Socrates Brito has looked this spring training:

“I think he’s having a lot of success hitting certain balls on certain pitches in certain areas. He’s shown continued improvement over the couple of years that I’ve known him and he seems to be in a very good, loaded, ready position offensively.

“Defensively, we’re asking him to go out and play centerfield and I think he’s been fine there and it’s a very competitive camp and he is right in the mixture of trying to make this team. We’re going to give him every look and I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far.”

D-backs Interviews and Segments