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Ketel Marte homers in Diamondbacks spring training opener against A’s

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA - FEBRUARY 23: Ketel Marte #4 of the Arizona Diamondbacks singles in the second inning of the spring training game against the Oakland Athletics at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on February 23, 2020 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — This may be a new year, Robbie Ray may have a new figure that’s 15 pounds lighter and in better shape, but his stat line looked more or less like it did last year.

In the first Arizona Diamondbacks spring training game of the year, Ray threw 36 pitches in 1.2 innings with three strikeouts and two walks in a 7-3 win over the Oakland Athletics.

Fortunately, it’s spring training, and neither Ray nor manager Torey Lovullo expressed concern over the pitch count.

“It’s about building up arm strength, getting innings, the up-downs are really the biggest thing,” Ray said. “Not really so much the pitches, but getting up and down multiple times, because overall, my body feels strong, so I’m pretty pleased with the first one.”

Ray struck out the side in the first inning. His curveball showed some good life, including freezing up center fielder Ramon Laureano with a pitch that dropped into the strike zone.

His fastball hit 95 miles per hour and 22 of his pitches were strikes. He said being in better shape will help him not with velocity, but with efficiency.

“My body is moving more efficiently,” Ray said. “Not necessarily just cause I’m stronger, but just because I’m moving better.”

There were positive points, but that pitch count will need to come down by the regular season for him to be a productive No. 2 pitcher. Ray struck out three batters in the first inning, but it took nine pitches to retire the first, six for Laureano and then Ray walked Chad Pinder in seven pitches. He threw 26 in the first inning.

In the second inning, Ray retired the first two batters on two pitches apiece, but he walked Skye Bolt on six pitches. This exceeded the 35-pitch limit Lovullo put him on, and Ray was taken out of the game.

Lovullo said there wasn’t concern about how quickly Ray’s pitch count rose on the first day of spring training.

“I know Robbie’s still getting his coordinates and trying to get everything online,” Lovullo said. “I loved the extra gear on his fastball, it seems like he’s done a lot of work leading up to this day today.”

D-backs second baseman Ketel Marte also put together a performance that looked similar to last year.

In his first at-bat, he teed off and hit a home run well over the right field wall.

“I hit 32 last year, so it’s not a surprise,” Marte said light-heartedly.

It was one of the two first-inning runs that gave the D-backs a lead they would not relinquish.

Marte looks to be in mid-season form, but he said there’s still work to be done this spring training before he’s ready for March — particularly on defense as he gets used to playing second base full-time.

At least at the plate, though, Ray thinks Marte is set.

“It looks like Ketel Marte is ready to go,” Ray said. “I think he could probably take 30 days off and show up Opening Day and be ready.”

Minor leaguers in starting lineup

The D-backs started two players who spent most or all of last year in their minor league system.

Wyatt Mathisen, who started at designated hitter and batted ninth, impressed by going 2-for-3 with two RBI and one run scored.

He reached base on his first at-bat with a chopper between third base and shortstop that got knocked down by a defender. He came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Kole Calhoun.

In Mathisen’s second at-bat, he came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. He drove a base hit to left field, driving home a pair of runs.

Mathisen broke out in Triple-A last season, his first year playing at that level. The third baseman hit .283 with 23 home runs and 61 RBI and was named Arizona’s Minor League Player of the Month in June by bashing .348 with 11 home runs and five doubles.

“He did exactly what we wanted him to do,” Lovullo said. “He went up there and he had a patient approach … He controls the zone, I thought it was a very good day for him.”

First baseman Kevin Cron is a more recognizable name for D-backs fans. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, he hit 38 home runs and 105 RBIs while batting .331 in the minors last year. In 78 major league at-bats last year, he had six home runs and hit .211.

He has more than 20 home runs in his last five minor league seasons.

Cron was unable to produce Sunday, though. Batting fourth, he went 0-for-3 with a strikeout and a two-out ground out with runners on first and second.

Base running

One of the first things Lovullo talked about in the postgame press conference was Arizona’s baserunning.

“I loved the energy and the focus on the little things,” Lovullo said. “The big things stood out to everybody — 14 hits, Ketel hits a home run, those are fantastic things, but I watch the game a little bit differently and those little things pleased me today.”

Over the first three innings, the team had three infield hits.

Third baseman Jake Lamb advanced from first base to third base twice on base hits by shortstop Nick Ahmed, and both times, Ahmed advanced to second base on the throw.

“Those are products of us being ready out of the box,” Lovullo said. “Nick hit that ball knowing full well that Jake was going to be going two bases and there was potential for a throw and an extra base for him, but it starts in the box.”

Outfielder Tim Locastro stole a base, and outfielder Ben DeLuzio hit a triple in the seventh inning.

Lovullo also mentioned first baseman Pavin Smith having the wherewithal to get back to first on a deep fly ball, which allowed him to tag up and reach second.

“It’s something that we’ve gotten accustomed to here and the fact that we did it on day one of spring training pleases me,” Lovullo said.


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