Brandon Pfaadt doomed by location issues in D-backs’ loss to Boston

May 26, 2023, 10:34 PM

Starting pitcher Brandon Pfaadt #32 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the Boston Red Sox ...

Starting pitcher Brandon Pfaadt #32 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning at Chase Field on May 26, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — It was a big night for Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Pfaadt and the promise from the young right-hander has not come to fruition just yet.

Pfaadt couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning on Friday against the Boston Red Sox, giving up five earned runs on eight hits with four strikeouts in 3.2 innings of a 7-2 D-backs loss. His season ERA now sits at 8.37 across the first 23.2 innings of his major-league career.

The D-backs (29-22) announced earlier in the day that right-hander Zach Davies was returning to the rotation and would get the nod on Saturday after missing nearly two months because of an oblique injury. They did not announce who he is replacing.

There’s a case to be made it could be Pfaadt, Tommy Henry or Ryne Nelson. All three have been pitching their best of the year recently, at least until Friday for Pfaadt. Pfaadt is Arizona’s top pitching prospect, and guys like him typically don’t bounce back and forth between ball clubs, but the D-backs are trying to win.

Four outings into Pfaadt’s MLB career, major-league hitters were thriving against his four-seam fastball. Seventeen of his 23 hits allowed were off the pitch he was using 55.8% of the time, per Baseball Savant. A lot of success with his sweeper, used 23.7% of the time and responsible for just three hits allowed versus eight strikeouts, helped offset that a bit. That pitch is obviously more successful when the fastball is established as well.

On Friday, D-backs manager Torey Lovullo saw a lack of command in that fastball that resembled Pfaadt’s first two starts when he had big-time struggles. Lovullo didn’t see the righty consistently able to keep the fastball down in the zone against a veteran Boston club that has some high-ball hitters. The manager described Pfaadt as able to locate that fastball in one zone of the plate but not the multiple portions required to really set up shop.

The breaking ball, though, was where the Red Sox capitalized. Three of the five hits for Boston in the first two innings were off that sweeper, all of which sat in the middle of the zone. Four of those hits came in the second inning when a pair each of singles and doubles produced three runs. Pfaadt was already up to 54 pitches.

“I think there were too many misses and too many big misses out of the zone which kind of backed him into having to throw a ball in the middle of the plate. … They were hunting for a ball in a certain area and they got it in that area because they were calculating where his misses were and where their target was,” Lovullo said. “And when that ball was in the right target area, they didn’t miss it.”

After a clean third inning, it was back to the fastball getting damaged. Triston Casas’ single led off the fourth and then Kike Hernandez blasted the first pitch he saw into the left field seats. Both were fastballs in parts of the zone hitters like them in and Hernandez destroyed his 431 feet with an exit velocity of 106 miles per hour.

Pfaadt gave up a single later in the inning and Lovullo called it there. Pfaadt afterwards criticized his own issues with locating the fastball inside, which he felt let Boston’s hitters be comfortable all night.

Of Pfaadt’s five starts, three have been rough. Henry, meanwhile, hasn’t been lights out yet but has mostly been solid while avoiding getting shelled. Nelson has managed to be stellar at times, and it has been in his last two appearances.

Lovullo was a tad late to his postgame press conference and confirmed it was due to discussions with some of the decision-makers that included what to do with that spot, the types of talks they want to have right after a game. Seems like the writing is on the wall for the decision but keep an eye out on the roster move coming in Saturday morning.

Arizona’s offense couldn’t mount much off of Boston (27-24)  lefty Chris Sale.

Sale, 34, is one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation but the consistency of his greatness hasn’t been there in Boston across six seasons, largely due to injuries. Lovullo pregame noted how Sale has the ability to “wipe out lineups” with how devastating his stuff can be when it’s all there. It had been recently, with Sale giving up seven earned runs in 27.1 innings for his previous four starts after 21 ER in 23 IP for the first five outings of 2023. Some tweaks to his mechanics have taken credit.

It wasn’t quite to that level on Friday but Sale was effective and really only ran into some trouble in the fifth inning when a Jake McCarthy stolen base and later wild pitch advanced him to third. Sale, however, would strand him and all the D-backs managed off him was Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s RBI triple in the fourth inning. Sale’s line ended at 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 1 ER and 3 K.

Arizona relievers are coming off a road trip where they got their fair share of work in, so it was not ideal to start the series this way. But Luis Frias took on the first 2.1 innings pitched and gave up an additional run while another got across on Kevin Ginkel’s record in two innings, letting that group be in “really good shape” according to Lovullo.

Jose Ruiz threw a scoreless ninth, and Lovullo said he will be available on Saturday, along with the right names they need.

Three straight D-backs singles in the eighth inning, capped off by Emmanuel Rivers, scored Arizona’s second and final run of the evening.

Gurriel’s hitting streak has now reached 17 games, the longest going in the majors and best by a D-back since 2013, per D-backs communications. A single for Marte in the eighth inning extended his career-best on-base streak to 25 games.

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