D-backs pitching coach Matt Herges sees camp standouts, competition

Jul 14, 2020, 8:40 AM
Pitcher Taylor Widener #62 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up in the outfield as he participates ...
Pitcher Taylor Widener #62 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up in the outfield as he participates in summer workouts ahead of the abbreviated MLB season at Chase Field on July 03, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. The 2020 season, which has been postponed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to start later this month. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona Diamondbacks pitching coach Matt Herges had multiple options to choose from when asked what the talk of camp has been since his team returned to Chase Field for summer workouts.

“Quite a few,” he said. “If I were to go home and tell my wife, if my wife asked me a question, ‘Who’s the talk of the camp?’ I would say the same thing: There’s a lot of guys, but the one that kind of comes to my mind immediately is [Taylor] Widener. He’s been impressive. Obviously Robbie [Ray]’s been incredibly impressive. Yesterday, with Luke [Weaver] and what he did, wow.

“It doesn’t surprise us, but just seeing that 96, 97 and the changeup and the curveball and everything pretty commanded, we have a pretty good lineup that we’re facing here. There’s some good players. We’ve got some good hitters. Weave, Robbie, carving right through ’em. Even Bum’s [Madison Bumgarner’s] last outing, was very happy with that.”

Herges says that even with a small sample size since camp began, there’s been plenty of competition. He said manager Torey Lovullo let players know after spring training was stopped in March that the season could resume in abrupt fashion. They needed to stay ready.

“‘Be ready to throw two innings,'” Herges quoted Lovullo as saying. “And Robbie [Ray] was ready to throw four innings the first day he got in here.”

The result: A lot of players earning praise from the first-year D-backs pitching coach. One of those names, Widener, might be the one that would stand out the most to Diamondbacks fans.

The 25-year-old, right-hander was No. 13 on the D-backs’ top-30 prospects list going into last year, but now isn’t on the list at all. His 8.10 ERA in 23 games in Triple-A Reno might have something to do with that. But in 2018, he had a strong 2.75 ERA with Double-A Jackson.

Then there’s Ray, whose story is similar. The former All-Star had a 2.89 ERA in 2017 but has since seen that number balloon to 4.34 in 2019. The presumed No. 2 man in the rotation behind Bumgarner, Ray needs to be his old self for the D-backs to seriously contend for a playoff spot.

But Weaver could serve as an factX-or, too, as the 26-year-old had a 2.94 ERA last year, his first season with Arizona, before having to be sidelined because of an arm injury.

“He’s not protecting anything,” Herges said. “He’s getting after it. And you could just see after his outing, that look in his face, that ‘Oh my gosh, yes, I’m back.’ I told him, I said, ‘Listen, I want to hug you right now but we can’t do it. There’s too many cameras. But in a normal outing? We’re hugging in the dugout and I don’t care who sees.’ That’s how good it was.”

Herges later circled back to Yoan Lopez, a late-inning reliever from last season who had a 3.41 ERA for the year — he split between a 1.59 ERA in the first half of the season and a 5.74 ERA in the second half.

“His slider has been the talk,” Herges said. “It’s definitely been the talk. Hitters come back and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen that.’ Even catchers catching him, like, ‘OK, that’s different.’ He’s just more mindful of being on top of the baseball and getting more downward action.”

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