Dark 2021 season continues to motivate newly-extended Torey Lovullo, D-backs

Jun 4, 2023, 2:57 PM | Updated: Jun 5, 2023, 10:45 am

Starting pitcher Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks is removed by manager Torey Lovullo ...

Starting pitcher Merrill Kelly #29 of the Arizona Diamondbacks is removed by manager Torey Lovullo #17 during the MLB game at Chase Field on April 13, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Doubt crept into Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo’s during the 2021 season, the franchise’s lowest point since 2004 at 110 losses.

Was his messaging not getting through? What wasn’t working?

His future was blurry, he admitted, but less than two years later, he and the organization agreed to a third one-year contract extension through 2024, the team announced on Sunday.

His Diamondbacks with a refreshed roster including youth and savvy additions opened 2023 as one of baseball’s top teams at 35-24 through 59 games, and general manager Mike Hazen said their start factored into the timing of the decision.

But that “dark” 2021 lingers in Lovullo’s mind.

“That ’21 was a very, very challenging season, but it taught me how to continue with my process and to see the path forward,” Lovullo said on Sunday. “I stood as tall and as strong as I possibly could, even though it was very difficult. And I think the organization saw something in me, maybe some good leadership quality or two that they embraced.

“And because of that, I’m grateful, but I have never stopped thinking about the ’21 season, even as we are coming out the other end. It is extremely motivating for me and I think about standing on top of the mountain with this group and what that will feel like a lot. And I will remember what ’21 felt like and it will make it even sweeter.”

Lovullo credited his wife, Kristen, for rattling the cage and keeping him up.

What could go wrong seemed to do so that year for the big league club, but as Hazen and his front office continued to build out the farm system, Lovullo saw an opportunity ahead. He just had to stick around, and he expressed gratitude to the organization for doing so on Sunday.

He was extended in 2021, and his option for 2023 was picked up last August. The D-backs improved by 22 games in 2022 with a 74-win season.

Arizona entered Sunday tied for the best record in the National League with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were a whopping 54 games better than the D-backs in 2021.

“I knew at the end of each day that there were some really good players in the system that were still developing and I just wanted an opportunity to manage them,” Lovullo said. “That’s what I kept telling myself. If it works out, this could be okay, but I’ve got to get through ’21 … I didn’t get distracted by it.

“I got down on myself internally, but I just wanted to stay the course because I knew guys like Brandon Pfaadt, Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson, Tommy Henry, Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, just to name a few and I’m sorry if I’ve forgotten some. I knew they were coming and I felt like if I could just weather the storm and get the opportunity to manage those players who had already established a relationship with — and I’m doing that now for some of the younger players — I knew that this could be a really good opportunity.”

Hazen credited Lovullo and his coaching staff for their communication with and development of some of their young players. Through 60 games, youngsters such as Carroll, Geraldo Perdomo and Gabriel Moreno are among the team’s WAR leaders.

The D-backs still have three top 35 prospects by MLB Pipeline in SS Jordan Lawlar, OF Druw Jones and Pfaadt.

The GM hopes the extension will send a message to the players that the D-backs will continue investing in the culture of the club and that Lovullo’s messages have more substance knowing the organization is behind him.

“I think he deserves it, given what he’s done in his job, what he’s done from a consistency standpoint and gotten us through, certainly in the last 18 months of a lot darker days than where we’re at right now,” Hazen said on Sunday.

“I think we’re reaping a lot of the investments that he made in those players through those periods of time. Those are in some way linked to how the team is performing now.”

Lovullo believes he’s learned to hold players accountable more effectively and have more uncomfortable conversations from his experience over the past six-plus seasons.

That accountability, Hazen said, was important for the organization to keep.


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Lovullo and Hazen were both hired ahead of the 2017 campaign, coming over from the Boston Red Sox. Lovullo’s extension now synchs up with the contracts held by Hazen and the front office.

The D-backs have made several investments into the roster going forward, extending Ketel Marte through 2027 with an option for 2028, Merrill Kelly through 2024 with an option for 2025 and Carroll through at least 2030.

Lovullo said he would love a long-term deal, expressing his affinity for Arizona and the organization, but he explained he wants to continue proving himself and honoring the contract he’s given.

He is on his third one-year extension with the club after agreeing to a three-year deal when Arizona hired him.

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