D-backs comfortable with environment for younger rotation

Apr 23, 2023, 6:06 AM

Ryne Nelson #19 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Cha...

Ryne Nelson #19 of the Arizona Diamondbacks delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chase Field on April 09, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen asked manager Torey Lovullo, “Are you comfortable working with three rookie starting pitchers in the rotation?”

Arizona tried out rookies Tommy Henry, Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson down the stretch last season, but now the club will rely on the young arms in first place, early in a campaign with higher expectations.

Starting Sunday against the San Diego Padres, Arizona will run out the three young arms in a row after outings from Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly.

“I have the same things to fall back on that everybody else does watching the same level I am,” manager Torey Lovullo told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo Drey on Friday. “Jameson and Ryne Nelson were fantastic last year. They’re still trending in a very positive direction.

“Tommy gave us a lot of hope last year when he was called up and we saw some strong outings. I told (Hazen) I’m comfortable with it. We’re evaluating the guys, the stuff and the ability to command the baseball to win baseball games.”

Nelson started the year as the No. 5 starter, Jameson took over for the injured Zach Davies and Henry will start in place of Madison Bumgarner, who was designated for assignment on Thursday.

Henry graduated from rookie status but only has nine career MLB starts. The D-backs will need to make a roster move to recall him from Triple-A Reno.

Should Arizona need another reinforcement at some point, Brandon Pfaadt — the team’s top pitching prospect — is ready in Triple-A and is expected to come up this year. He is coming off a seven-inning, scoreless outing.

“I think three rookies in the rotation … we may get to four at some point, they have really good stuff, they can all pitch,” Hazen told reporters Thursday.

“Some of them are already showing it right now. There’s going to be some volatility for sure. We know that, but they’re all really good. And we’ve seen most of them up here pitching. And the guy that you haven’t seen yet probably has the best stuff.”

Part of Arizona’s comfort involves the environment the team is putting its young pitchers in.

Hazen said he’s worried about everything when it comes to the D-backs, but surrounding their pitchers with a stellar defense makes the transition to a younger staff easier.

The D-backs have played some of the strongest defense in the majors this season, entering Saturday second in baseball with 16 defensive runs saved and first with 10 outs above average, according to FanGraphs. OAA uses range to determine how many outs defenders have saved.

The corners have been stabilized by a much improved Josh Rojas at third paired with reigning NL Gold Glove winner at first, Christian Walker. They were two of 11 players in the league with at least three OAA entering Saturday. Lovullo said to look at Rojas’ feet when searching for a difference in his prowess at third.

Middle infielder Geraldo Perdomo continues to progress with four DRS in 13 games, while 23-year-old catcher Gabriel Moreno has turned heads already.

Not only has Moreno thrown out five of eight base runners attempting to steal despite bigger bases, his ability to handle a pitching staff early in his D-backs tenure was praised by Arizona’s ace.

“The biggest thing for me with catchers is they care,” Gallen told reporters Friday. “You can tell (Moreno) right away cares.

“Has some grit to him back there … It’s great to have somebody back there who receives the ball really well. He presents pitches really well, he fools me sometimes, I think balls are strikes. And then his arm is unbelievable.”

Moreno entered the year with 25 MLB games under his belt with the Toronto Blue Jays and was thrust into a larger role with Carson Kelly suffering a fractured forearm in spring training. Lovullo commended his confidence despite getting a crash course with this staff, and he expects further improvement.

Pair an improved defensive infield with the “No Fly Zone” in the outfield, and the D-backs believe they are putting pitchers in better positions than in years past.

“I think everybody’s locked in right now,” Lovullo said Saturday. “I think that’s a credit to their focus, our preparation and their belief that they’re gonna go out there and do it all. We need them to.

“We’ve had some you years here when we haven’t picked up the baseball and that drips over into what the pitchers are going through. They want to put the ball on the ground, knowing that their defense is gonna scoop it up or the outfield is going to run it down. So when balls are put on the ground, you’re out. If it’s supposed to be made, you’re out. We’re good at it, we’re very good at it.”

It also can’t hurt to follow the lead of Gallen, who is on a 21.2 scoreless innings streak leading to three wins.

Jameson will throw Sunday, with Henry expected to come up for Monday against the Kansas City Royals at Chase Field and Nelson sliding in on Tuesday.

Nelson and Jameson have combined for a 3.79 ERA this season, although Jameson has only two starts after moving back into the rotation. Henry is coming off his most productive outing of the year, with six innings of two-run ball for the Aces.

Arizona will be faced with another rotation question when veteran Zach Davies returns from the 15-day injured list (oblique), but Hazen said that is weeks away. The team will cross that bridge then.

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