Diamondbacks still have major roster questions as Opening Day looms

Mar 24, 2023, 5:39 PM | Updated: 8:47 pm

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo speaks with reporters after a 7-4 spring training loss t...

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo speaks with reporters after a 7-4 spring training loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz., on March 24, 2023. (Jake Anderson/Arizona Sports)

(Jake Anderson/Arizona Sports)

SCOTTSDALE — The Arizona Diamondbacks still have major questions to answer regarding their 2023 roster after concluding play at Salt River Fields for the year on Friday with a 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

The D-backs still have four more spring training games: a weekend road pair against the Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle Mariners before hosting the Cleveland Guardians at Chase Field for a two-game series to wrap up exhibition play.

And with only six days until Opening Day against the Dodgers in Los Angeles next Thursday, manager Torey Lovullo still has to get the active roster down from 36 to 26, which he chipped at earlier in the day by sending former big league pitchers Luis Frías and Kyle Nelson to Triple-A Reno while reassigning Jeurys Familia.

“A few tough send-outs today to start the morning. … It was some tough evaluations,” Lovullo said. “We have some situations that we’re walking through every single day and we’re trying to get the decision right every single time. Do we? Maybe.

“But when you have days like this as you’re winding down camp, you start to have really tough conversations inside of my office or the conference room and then obviously even tougher conversations when you got to send out good players, which we did today.”

The skipper added that having to send down Nelson was difficult because of how well he threw the ball out of the bullpen last season. The 26-year-old left-hander finished 2022 with a 2.19 ERA, 1.081 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 37 innings across 43 games.

“Man, that one stung a little bit,” Lovullo said. “He was somebody that we all counted on last year. He had a (1.57) earned run average [through Aug. 2].

“And then gets banged up and then tried, fought to get back out there and do his thing. … I just remember every time looking up, he and Joe Mantiply were 0-1 on every hitter and we need to get back to that with him.”

Lovullo is still trying to figure out who the team’s No. 5 starter will be between righties Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson, but didn’t rule out the possibility of one of them starting in the bullpen to begin the year. The manager added that the team typically has this sort of thing figured out before they head to Chase Field, which would make Monday the end of that timeline.

“We’re having a lot of good conversations,” he said. “We’re still pounding everything out, you know those conversations started early this morning. We were in two different places yesterday. A lot of conversations started one-on-one yesterday. But today it was a little more content inside of the same room with the same people that need to hear it.”

The manager also all but confirmed that the first four of the rotation are going to be Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Madison Bumgarner and Zach Davies.

However, Lovullo wouldn’t commit to who the closer would be or if the team will even necessarily have that role given to a particular player.

“Naturally if somebody emerges into that role and we can balance them into the eighth inning as well, we’ll consider that, but it’ll mostly be matchup-based,” he said. “I have a lot of information at my disposal and I have direct matchups, I have projected matchups and then I have some gut feelings and I have some conversations with other staff members that are going to lead me down that road.

“We’ve got to get outs at the most critical point in time in the game and I want to put guys in the right position to do that. That’s the bottom line. We do that, we’re going to win games.”

Defensively, Lovullo is having to do some shuffling at catcher following Carson Kelly’s forearm fracture — which will sideline him for several weeks — as well as who will be the backup first baseman behind Christian Walker.

The manager said third baseman Emmanuel Rivera, outfielders Pavin Smith and Lourdes Gurriel, and catchers Jose Herrera and P.J. Higgins will all be considered.

“The message will be consistent: to be ready,” Lovullo said. “We’re going to have needs for guys, we go six-seven-eight-nine-10 deep in the starting category. We probably go at least 10 guys deep into the bullpen.”

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