D-backs starting rotation contenders see mixed results in spring training debuts

Feb 26, 2023, 6:05 PM

Tommy Henry...

Tommy Henry #47 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches during the first inning of the game against the San Diego Padres September 7, 2022 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

(Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

PEORIA — The Arizona Diamondbacks ran out Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson and Tommy Henry in their first three spring training matchups over the weekend with the trio battling for a spot on the roster.

The No. 5 starter role will be up for grabs throughout spring training, with manager Torey Lovullo telling reporters on Sunday the battle will go down to the wire and the organization will take as much time as possible to decide.

The three had mixed results in their 2023 debuts, as Jameson was the only arm to pitch two scoreless frames.

Henry said he felt great in the first inning on Sunday having escaped a daunting top of the San Diego Padres order unscathed. He struck out Manny Machado and Nelson Cruz on three pitches, each.

He walked the leadoff batter in the second on four pitches, though, which kicked off a Padres onslaught.

After a single and a ground out, Henry allowed a moon shot of a three-run home run to outfielder Trent Grisham. The southpaw exited the game with one out and two on after an error by third baseman Deyvison De Los Santos ended a potential double play opportunity.

“He was working his fastball, got some swing and miss with it at the top of the zone,” Lovullo said postgame. “And then it looked like he was missing and falling behind at certain times in certain counties with different pitches. It wasn’t just his fastball. He throws a down fastball to a down hitter and it gets flipped for a home run.

“He rebounded well enough, and I think the key blow for him was the double play ball thjatwasn’t picked up. So those are the little things we got to tighten up. I thought Tommy was okay.”

Henry’s line was 1.1 IP, 4 ER, 2 K, 2 BB.

The lefty was clear on what needed to change, noting that getting behind a batter sped him up when he needed to gather and get back into the at-bat.

“Maybe it’s a mentality switch after falling behind 1-0 to the first hitter, even with the clock just taking a step off, taking a second to make sure it gets to 1-1,” Henry said.

Nelson started at Salt River Fields on Saturday and was pulled in the second inning with no outs and two on. He and Lovullo agreed that his fastball command was effective, though his velocity dipped after the first inning.

He was sitting 93-95 mph to start, but the radar gun read 91 mph multiple times in the second inning. Nelson struggled with his breaking stuff, throwing eight of 11 sliders for balls and surrendering a double on a curveball.

“Felt good to get the pregame jitters going and everything, but definitely some stuff to work on,” Nelson said. “I want to be able to throw all my offspeed pitches for strikes and execute a little bit better and not work such long at bats.”

Jameson is next in line out of the three, as he will pitch again Wednesday against the San Francisco Giants at Scottsdale Stadium.

The three arms vying for the spot were all drafted in 2019, rose through the ranks and endured the lost 2020 minor league season together. Henry said the other two are some of his best friends.

“We’ve always had a fun, healthy competition between us,” Henry said. “We’re always pushing each other, we’re always bouncing ideas off of each other.”

Henry was the first to come up last year, making his debut against the Cleveland Guardians on Aug. 3. He had ups and downs as a rookie, but he noted that the experience helped him come into camp with more confidence.

He started nine games, Jameson pitched in four and Nelson three.

Henry does not see the competition as something to press about, as he stressed focusing on himself and his own development.

“It’s wasted energy to think or wonder or do things to to impress people,” Henry said.

“If I spend my energy on being myself and taking it day by day, I’ll think about this for the rest of today and tomorrow, I’ll be a new person. If I live that mindset, I hope and I think I’ll like where I am at the end of camp.”

Lovullo said he’s keeping a closer eye on those fighting for spots on the team than established starters to evaluate players properly.

Brandon Pfaadt is next up to start Monday afternoon against the Chicago Cubs. Pfaadt is Arizona’s top ranked pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline, and he made 10 starts with Triple-A Reno last year. Blake Walston will pitch in the night cap, an exhibition game against West Virginia University.

Camp notes

— The D-backs dropped Sunday’s game with the Padres 18-6. The game lasted three hours and three minutes, Arizona’s third game beyond the three-hour mark this spring. However, a game with 24 runs scored would likely last quite a while longer without new rules MLB put in place.

— De Los Santos hit a sharp grounder up the middle in his first at-bat but Padres 2B Ha-Seong Kim made the play. Kim was stationed a step to the right of second base, a look into altered shifts within the rules of keeping two players on each side of the bag.

— Similar to Saturday, there were some positive swings from Arizona despite the lopsided score. Carroll finished the game with 1-for-3 with a run scored. Smith went 2–for-3 with a home run, two RBI and two runs scored. Alek Thomas picked up a two-run double the opposite way, and Buddy Kennedy tripled in a run.

— Shortstop Jordan Lawlar – Arizona’s No. 2 prospect – made a diving catch working toward left field after he checked in:

— Lovullo said he would be very upset with the mistakes Arizona made during Sunday’s game had they happened during the regular season. Arizona committed two errors but did not help its pitchers much defensively. “They know what’s important to us, and we’ll hammer it out. So game two of spring training, I can live with it a little bit. We’re not going to miss the opportunity to coach up and make sure we don’t do it again.”

— Lovullo said a few D-backs players will play against WVU, but he explained that most of the opportunities will go to those from player development.

Up next

The D-backs and Cubs start at 1:10 p.m. while first pitch of Arizona vs. WVU is set for 6:40 p.m. Both games will be played at Salt River Fields.

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