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Madison Bumgarner gives deep D-back rotation a No. 1 starter to rally around

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Diamondbacks’ starting rotation wasn’t exactly stealing national headlines a year ago. It was fine heading into Cactus League play, but there were plenty of question marks. And as the regular season unfolded, injuries and the eventual trade of Zack Greinke tested the depth.

That all changed this winter. Suddenly the rotation is a strength, highlighted by the acquisition of Madison Bumgarner – a guy the D-backs didn’t even anticipate adding when the 2019 campaign wrapped up in October.

“We went off into the offseason with a plan that didn’t necessarily impact our starting pitching, so to speak,” general manager Mike Hazen acknowledged to the media gathered at Salt River Fields on Wednesday. “We had other areas that we knew we were going to be focused on – replacing some of our position player free agents, addressing our bullpen. That one, as we went through the offseason, we saw it became a possibility. We felt like it was something that could help our starting pitching staff for the long term, not just this year. And we were able to get something done.”

Bumgarner immediately brings credibility to a young staff looking to make a name for itself in the National League. His three World Series rings are a glowing reminder that he knows how to win on the biggest stage, and his daily preparation is something Hazen and Torey Lovullo hope will rub off on the other pitchers in the clubhouse.

“To watch him walk around in our uniform with our hat and our brand and our logo was pretty special,” Lovullo pointed out. “I know that he’s ready to get started. He’s got an idea of what he wants to do.”

Hazen echoed those sentiments, stressing the importance of building a winning culture around the team.

“Having him in our uniform – just seeing the presence in the clubhouse, hearing some of the comments that were made on day one from teammates – shows you that it means a lot having someone of his stature, his accomplishment, his ability in our clubhouse,” Hazen said.

The Diamondbacks’ general manager also pointed out the value of giving his guys a true No. 1 starter to rally around, noting that they didn’t have that after Greinke was dealt in July. Sure, different players stepped up in different games. But now they have a bonafide front line arm to run out there every five days.

Even if he’s not the same dominant pitcher he once was with San Francisco, Bumgarner should still have plenty left in the tank at age 30.

Lovullo wasn’t ready to tip his hand on any definitive roster decisions in the middle of February, but he did joke that he’d “be an idiot” if he didn’t strongly consider Bumgarner as the Opening Day starter against Atlanta.

Put another way, it would be a stunner if anyone else took the mound on March 26.

It’s not just the guy at the top of the rotation fueling optimism within the organization though. Simply swapping Greinke for Bumgarner doesn’t instantly make your rotation stronger. In fact, some might consider Greinke the better pitcher right now. Or at least the “safer” option.

Bumgarner is signficantly cheaper and could be as effective. Plus, the D-backs held on to Robbie Ray, added Zac Gallen and Mike Leake over the course of the season, developed Luke Weaver and saw some of their top young arms gain valuable Major League experience in 2019.

Suddenly Alex Young, Jon Duplantier and Taylor Clarke look a lot more ready to push for playing time now too. Not to mention Merrill Kelly, who gave Arizona 183.1 decent innings as a 30-year old rookie last summer.

That all adds up to considerable depth at baseball’s most volatile position.

“I said the other day we’re going to get to a 10-man rotation this year,” Lovullo laughed. “Be the first team in the history of baseball to go 10 deep. What do you think about that?”

That obviously won’t happen. But as the Diamondbacks saw in 2019, you can never have too much pitching. Especially if you’re trying to run down the Los Angeles Dodgers.


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