PHOENIX — Archie Bradley was uncannily loose Saturday afternoon, just four hours before his much-anticipated major league debut.
Reporters are forbidden from talking with pitchers on the day of their starts and teammates, just the same, seem to give them extra space. But Bradley, 22, was walking around the Arizona Diamondbacks clubhouse smiling, chatting with anyone who would entertain his conversational advances. Few did, lionizing the gravity of what awaited the pitcher more than he himself might have.
That’s not to say he wasn’t appreciative of the moment, however. That was far from the case. The Broken Arrow, Okla. native was outspoken in his gratitude to his parents, family and friends during a radio spot Friday, and he echoed the same sentiments Saturday following his team’s 6-0 win over Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“It was incredible,” Bradley said of sharing his debut with 55 of the close family members and friends who were in attendance to support him at Chase Field Saturday. “First off, my parents. Everything they did for me, the sacrifices they made. And my brothers and sisters, some of my best friends from high school. It’s unbelievable. I’m going to go to dinner with them after this and thank them and tell them how much this means to me.”
The right-hander made them proud. He went six scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and four walks while striking out six and besting a three-time Cy Young winner in Kershaw.
Like Kershaw, Bradley was drafted seventh overall, becoming the D-backs’ second selection of the 2011 MLB First Year Player Draft and signing later that summer, turning down an offer to play football at the University of Oklahoma.
He cruised through his first three years in Arizona’s system, capping a 2013 campaign with a 1.84 ERA in 152.0 innings pitched at two different levels. He put up gaudy strikeouts-per-nine rates in all three years and quickly became not just the D-backs’ top prospect, but one of the most celebrated in all of baseball. Entering the 2014 season, he made nearly every major publication’s top 10 prospects list.
But injuries and poor performance dampened the pitcher’s 2014 season. He suffered a flexor strain in his right elbow last April and was shut down for a month. He ultimately made 18 starts, including a Rookie-level appearance and 12 with Double-A Mobile.
“That’s the first time doubt ever really got into my head,” Bradley recalled in an interview during spring training. “That kind of contributed to some of my problems last year. It was the first time I didn’t believe in my stuff and believe in who I am and that’s one thing I got back to, is understanding who Archie Bradley is and what my strengths are and what my weaknesses are and I think I addressed that. I got that swagger and that confidence back.”
Back in the D-backs clubhouse Saturday, around 1:15 p.m., Bradley simulated a throwing motion near a television showing The Masters golf tournament. He stopped abruptly — leg in the air — to celebrate a Tiger Woods birdie putt on the 13th hole with a near synchronized signature fist pump.
“If (Jordan) Spieth can just drop a couple of strokes here, we could have an epic Sunday!” he exclaimed to the room.
One member of Bradley’s party — a family friend — ditched what would have been their 10th consecutive Masters attendance to see him pitch. They were one of the 37,636 who filed through the Chase Field turnstiles Saturday — one of the 37,636 who saw a piece of history.
Bradley was the first major league debutant to go six innings and allow just one hit since Miami Marlins pitcher Brad Hand did so in a 2010 start against the Atlanta Braves. Hand allowed a run in that outing. Bradley avoided as much.
Bradley could only deflect, though, over and over pointing to family, friends and teammates while taking 10 minutes worth of questions from the media after the game, which came after a live spot on MLB Network.
Catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, in particular, got a lot of credit from the pitcher.
“The meeting I had before the game with Tuffy and the game plan we came up with and just inning through inning, he kept me calm, made the right pitch calls and I just tried to execute and throw the ball where he set up,” Bradley said after the game.
During Friday’s series opener, Bradley sat with catchers Jordan Pacheco and Gerald Laird — who was supposed to catch Saturday’s game but was scratched with back tightness — in the dugout, walking through the approach against the Dodgers and analyzing the opposing hitters. On Saturday, he followed Gosewisch’s lead, even throwing a curveball with the second pitch of the game and opening both the fifth and sixth innings with offspeed pitches.
“Honestly, you can’t ask for anything else,” Gosewisch said of the effort. “He went out there and had a great attitude, he attacked and that’s what we talked about — just attack, be aggressive and throw your best pitch and just commit to the pitch that’s called and, if you don’t want that one, just commit to what you want and execute it.”
Bradley looked particularly aggressive in the fifth and sixth innings. He had already thrown 79 pitches by the time he took the mound in the fifth, but he was able to strike out Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson with three pitches to begin the frame. He eventually struck out the side, which included Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis along with Kershaw. In fact, 20 of his last 32 pitches in the game were strikes.
The pitcher also collected his first career hit on the first pitch he saw Saturday, singling to left field in the second inning. He was later picked off at first.
Following the game and the interviews, a beer-soaked Bradley let out a long sigh at his locker and turned to a D-backs media relations official and said, “Alright, I think I’m going to go see my family now.”
He exited the D-backs clubhouse and found the group waiting for him. He hugged his dad and took a kiss from his mom on his cheek. A young child in the group chanted his name.
“Now it’s on to the next one,” he said. “You know, I’ll enjoy tonight but I’m going to start getting ready for San Francisco.”