Gallen shines, D-backs win 4 of 5 in latest attempted push out of .500 ball
PHOENIX — Here we go again.
The Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Philadelphia Phillies 6-1 on Wednesday, making it four wins in their last five as they head on the road.
At a record of 58-57, the D-backs are now 1.5 games out of the second wild card spot.
It’s the latest “up,” if you even want to call it that, in a season full of mediocrity for Arizona that had them fluttering around .500 nearly all year.
For reference, the last time the D-backs were three games above or below .500 was 42 games ago on June 16 when a loss to the Washington Nationals put them at 38-35. Stretch that requirement two games further and now we’re all the way back to May 17 when they were 25-20 after beating the San Francisco Giants — 70 games played since!.
It’s a credit to the team for never sinking too low but also a frustrating process to watch them continue to get knocked over, running into the wall of .500 baseball instead of crashing through it by getting hot.
The hope is this is the start of that for the D-backs, who certainly have to feel encouraged about new rookie right-hander Zac Gallen’s ability to push them toward the playoffs after his debut win on Wednesday.
Gallen went 5.0 shutout innings, allowing one hit and three walks. Of his 85 pitches, 54 were strikes.
With the exception of Scott Kingery stealing second in the third inning, no other runner would reach second base on him.
Using all four of his pitches, Gallen continuously kept himself in control by throwing first-pitch strikes and keeping hitters honest by using his changeup, his best pitch on the night.
Bryce Harper, a man who was recently paid $330 million because of his ability to hit baseballs, couldn’t figure the pitch out, grounding into a double play and striking out on it.
“It’s got a lot of depth to it as well,” Arizona catcher Carson Kelly said of the movement on Gallen’s changeup, labeling the differentiating factor in it moving “late.”
Gallen occasionally mixed in his curveball too, with the offspeed stuff getting four of his six strikeouts.
“It came out real hot and there was one comment after another from everybody that was watching,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said of the reactions from the dugout seeing Gallen live for the first time.
Throwing out one of his outings that got cut short because of a rain delay, Gallen’s seven other major league starts feature him going at least five innings and giving up under three runs in all but one.
“He was fearless,” Lovullo said. “And when you’re talking about one outing and the type of outing you want to see is ‘set the tone’ and it was exactly what we wanted out of him.”
Through Gallen’s execution and the offense’s, the D-backs looked the part of a playoff team.
The first time they really got some momentum off Phillies starter Jason Vargas was in the third inning, when ahead in an 0-2 count, Vargas hit Kelly. From there, Gallen got the sac bunt down, Ketel Marte walked and David Peralta’s single scored Marte.
Eduardo Escobar apparently hit the ball far enough on the next to pitch to score Marte on a sacrifice fly, although it’s probably wise to believe the D-backs had a good read on Philadelphia’s arm in center as well.
In our next act of converting on opportunities, three straight singles in the fourth had runners on second and third with one out.
The problem is Gallen was up, but with Nick Ahmed on third, Lovullo trusted both his pitcher on the bunt and his runner on the decision to go for home or not with a squeeze play call.
It was a good idea and even better baserunning by Ahmed, as no one forced the shortstop to retreat and he simply held his ground long enough to break for home and score.
That was Gallen’s first-career RBI.
The last box to check was the bullpen closing out a 4-0 lead, and to the surprise of many, it went off mainly without a hitch.
T.J. McFarland held the shutout in the sixth, Yoshihisa Hirano the seventh and Andrew Chafin the eighth.
Two insurance runs came in the bottom of the eighth before rookie Kevin Ginkel met Harper in the ninth and promptly gave up a solo home run to him, closing out the game after that.
It was certainly the type of game and series win the D-backs can build off.
When Lovullo was asked about the race before the game, he said it was going to come down to which teams are going to make a run.
With a six-game in-division road trip against the Dodgers and Rockies looming, winning four series in a row against good teams is the type of boost forward the D-backs need to get out of being an average team, and instead, a playoff team.
It’s quite the point in the schedule for the D-backs to try and make a push forward in the wild card race.
After six straight days of games at home, they go on a division road trip that starts in Los Angeles against the Dodgers on Friday. Three games there are followed by three in Colorado, once again on six straight days.
Robbie Ray is set to get the ball on Friday.
A notable change for the left-hander as of late is the walks being down. In his last five outings that total 29.1 innings, Ray has four total walks, including zero in his last two starts. On the year, he’s 10-7 with a 4.03 ERA.
Walker Buehler is penciled in as Ray’s opposition.
The 25-year-old has been in excellent form this season, as year two at this level has certified the right-hander as one of the best starters in the National League. He’s coming off a complete-game win against the Padres in which he struck out 15.