D-backs’ Emmanuel Rivera building role after challenge to prove himself

Jun 5, 2023, 7:15 PM | Updated: 7:47 pm

Emmanuel Rivera #15 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits a single against the Miami Marlins during the ...

Emmanuel Rivera #15 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits a single against the Miami Marlins during the fourth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on May 08, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo still remembers the face infielder Emmanuel Rivera made when they talked at the end of spring training.

Rivera — who came over in a midseason trade last year from the Kansas City Royals for Luke Weaver — learned he did not make the team for Opening Day and would start 2023 in Triple-A Reno. Kyle Lewis nabbed that final right-handed power bat role.

Lovullo said if he wasn’t Rivera’s manager, he may have been hit with a suplex.

“I think he took it in stride, but he’s very intense and I think a lot of guys want to drop me into a figure-four leglock when I send them down,” Lovullo said during this past homestand. 

The manager explained that the 26-year-old went to Reno with a lot to prove but credited him for producing right away.

Rivera said he stuck to his routine and stayed confident during the time. He found his way back up within a month, making his season debut with the D-backs on April 25.

Lewis was on the injured list at that point, and while offseason additions Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Evan Longoria help balance the lineup, Rivera has carved out a role for semi-regular playing time.

The D-backs have primarily started him against lefties, but he has seven starts against right-handed pitchers. He boasts an .857 OPS against southpaws this year with a .771 clip against righties.

Since his recall, Rivera is fourth on the team in Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) at 121, only trailing Gurriel, Corbin Carroll and Christian Walker during that stretch. His grounders and fly balls are down with line drives way up at 35.5% from 2022. Meanwhile, his strikeout rate at 11.2% is lowest on the team.

Rivera has also given Lovullo defensive options, starting games at designated hitter, third and first base.

“He’s back to where he belongs, and he’s been a very consistent performer for us,” Lovullo said. “He’s been playing exceptional defense. The at-bats have been consistent, especially against left-handed pitching. But those are hard things for guys overcome, when you get a year of service time, couple years of service time and you walk into the manager’s office at spring training and they’re getting ready to send you down.

“It’s a dose of humble pie.” 

The D-backs’ built-up depth has spawned competition throughout the roster this year, from the outfield to final starting rotation spots. Rivera coming up with a right-handed third baseman in Longoria on the team created some surplus, but he has played well enough to stick most nights somewhere in the order.

Rivera has recorded hits in 16 of 19 starts and has hit safely in eight of his last nine games.

“I think that internal competition is so huge,” bench coach Jeff Banister said on Saturday, specifically about catchers. “The ability to play off of each other and it’s not one upping each other. What are you doing to help your team meet the demands of the game that day?”

Rivera started off blazing when he arrived in Arizona last season with a .932 OPS in his first 20 games. He cooled off significantly in September, though, and building a more complete and consistent MLB season for the first time is the next point he’ll need to prove.

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