ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Zac Gallen given the nod for D-backs’ 1st spring training game

Feb 26, 2021, 1:51 PM | Updated: 1:59 pm

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zac Gallen throws against the San Francisco Giants during the...

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zac Gallen throws against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning of a baseball game on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

The Arizona Diamondbacks will turn to starting pitcher Zac Gallen for the team’s first spring training game of 2021 on Sunday.

D-backs skipper Torey Lovullo broke the news Friday while on with Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta.

“I’ll go ahead and tell you that Zac Gallen is gonna start the Cactus League for us on Sunday,” the skipper said.

“I just tie all of that into the pitching coaches, they map out and draw the schedule from start to finish over the course of spring training and that’s where it landed,” Lovullo later told reporters on Zoom.

Gallen has impressed since coming over in a 2019 trade from the Miami Marlins.

Since the pitcher’s MLB debut in June 2019, only five pitchers have a better ERA than Gallen (2.78), per FanGraphs.

Last season, Gallen finished with a 3-2 record, a 2.75 ERA and a 2.7 WAR. His nine quality starts over 12 games was tops among the team, with Merrill Kelly the next closest with four.

He also set an MLB record last season, surpassing Aaron Sele’s 21-game mark of allowing three earned runs or less to start a career in an Aug. 29 victory over the San Francisco Giants.

“He’s special, I love playing behind him,” shortstop Nick Ahmed said of Gallen via Zoom on Friday. “I love getting to talk to him about his mindset, how he prepares and he’s just a student of his craft in the game. His pitching is dominant and he goes out every day and keeps hitters off balance and throws all his pitches for strikes. He’s deceptive and he knows what he’s doing out there.

“He reminds me a lot of Zack Greinke just in the way he prepares and the way he knows what he’s doing on the mound. The way he can adjust game plans mid-game and just do things that most guys can’t do. His command is elite and his ability to replicate pitch to pitch, inning to inning is really special.”

As for the Opening Day starter? That’s still unknown as of Friday afternoon, with Gallen and Madison Bumgarner two of the more likely pitchers to get the nod.

“As far as the Opening Day starter, I’ve done it in years past where I just waited it out until we get through a camp that’s healthy,” Lovullo said. “We certainly know the candidates that we do have, but I don’t want to play our hand out right now. I just want to allow these guys to go out and compete and do what they’re supposed to do in camp and take it from there.

“I know that there’s gonna be a heightened sense based on the things that happened last year, but I’m going to block all that out. I’m going to make the best decision that’s gonna help us win a baseball game.”

Gallen and the D-backs take on the Colorado Rockies at 1:10 p.m. on Sunday. Tune to 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station for all the action.

BASE HITS

Arizona is targeting eight innings for the team’s first spring training matchup.

“I think we’re going to play eight innings,” Lovullo said. “There’s a couple games where we’re going to be a little light pitching-wise and I feel like — other teams have been talking to us about a specific number of innings as well. I think we’re all in the same boat early. This is the first week. You might see us play anywhere from 7-9 innings a couple times, but we’re looking to play nine innings. I want us to play nine innings, but not on the risk of throwing somebody out there too long or asking them to do a little bit too much this first week.”

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