Cy Young contenders Zac Gallen, Spencer Strider go toe-to-toe in series finale

Jul 20, 2023, 3:16 PM | Updated: 3:17 pm

Zac Gallen...

Zac Gallen #23 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches in the third inning during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on July 20, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/Getty Images)

Zac Gallen and Spencer Strider were nearly untouchable five innings into Thursday’s Diamondbacks-Braves series finale on a hot day at Truist Park, a 7-5 Atlanta win.

Entering the sixth, Strider, Atlanta’s ace and All-Star second-year hurler, had 12 strikeouts and 23 whiffs, shutting out Arizona through its first two rounds of the order.

Gallen somehow one-upped that, with five perfect innings against the National League’s highest-scoring offense, one that produced 13 runs against the D-backs on Tuesday in a losing effort.

“I was just trying to mix pitches, get in certain zones and certain counts,” Gallen said. “That’s a good offense. Like you saw, they can pretty much leave the yard one through nine. I was just trying to stay in attack mode and stay on the offensive and keep us in the game.” posted its latest poll of Cy Young favorites before first pitch. Gallen was first and Strider was second, setting up a showcase of two pitchers looking to finish on top for the first time in their young careers.

Strider allowed an Emmanuel Rivera single and Ketel Marte triple through five but he stranded both runners with Ks. Marte’s triple led off the fourth inning, and Strider unleashed his fastball-slider combo to punch out Corbin Carroll, Christian Walker and Dominic Canzone in order.

The righty threw five fastballs up to Carroll, set up Walker with a 99 mph fastball up followed by a low and away slider in the dirt and shifted Canzone’s eye level with four up and out heaters and a slider that broke low and in.

“The last two games his stuff has been as good as it’s been probably the whole time he’s been up here,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said. “Velocity, the breaking ball. … He keeps throwing like that, he’s going to be OK.”

Gallen didn’t get the swings and misses, but he worked efficiently to pick up the first 16 outs without much of a scare. Alek Thomas made a sliding catch in center to cap the fifth inning.

He finally lost his perfect bid with one out in the sixth, as Braves SS Orlando Arcia got his hands in on a slider for a solo homer.

Gallen was in trouble after a bizarre ground ball double by Michael Harris II that kicked off second base, but the ace picked off the overzealous runner looking to steal third.

Strider tossed 100 pitches but only allowed nine balls in play, as he became the first pitcher in league history to strikeout 350 hitters in his first 40 career starts.

The D-backs eventually got to him, though, as Carroll walked and Walker was hit by a pitch in the seventh inning.

Canzone ripped a three-run shot to right on a 96 mph fastball up and in, his first MLB home run and second hit. Emmanuel Rivera smacked an opposite-field shot to go back-to-back, and Strider’s line in the box score showed nothing near the dominance he displayed for six innings.

Gallen similarly allowed a home run in the seventh, as Matt Olson crushed a low fastball that missed over the middle, which cut the D-backs’ lead to 4-3.

Strider’s final line: 6+ IP, 4 ER, 4 H, 13 Ks, 1 BB, 2 HR

Gallen’s final line: 7 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 5 Ks, 0 BB, 2 HR

“He left the game and we were winning, he did his job against probably the second best pitcher in the National League,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo told reporters postgame.

The two clubs went back and forth down the stretch against each other’s bullpen.

Austin Riley took Miguel Castro deep for a three-run shot in the eighth, reminiscent of Castro’s blown save against Atlanta on June 4 when Eddie Rosario hit a grand slam in the ninth.

Castro threw four straight sliders to Riley, the last of which hung over the middle.

Riley homered in all three games.

The Diamondbacks took two of three in the series but were four outs away from a sweep on the road against the best team in the league.

“Not the series we wanted to play while we were here but we leave on a high note,” Olson said. “Gallen threw a great game. We were able to score some runs there at the end and have a little comeback win.”

Gallen pitched at least seven innings for the fifth time in his last seven starts.

His performance came at a critical juncture for the D-backs pitching staff. Arizona heads to Cincinnati to face the Reds this weekend for three games. The D-backs will turn to Tommy Henry on Friday, but then it becomes murky with Merrill Kelly and Zach Davies on the injured list.

Brandon Pfaadt is expected to get a turn, and it is possible a bullpen game will be needed.

Gallen’s next start lines up against the St. Louis Cardinals at Chase Field next week, a matchup against the team that drafted him.

What’s next?

The D-backs and Reds play Friday at 4:10 p.m. on ESPN 620 AM, the Arizona Sports app and 

Henry (3.89 ERA) matches up with Reds RHP Ben Lively (3.72).

Cincinnati’s probable starter for Saturday is Brandon Williamson (4.96), followed by former Diamondbacks RHP Luke Weaver (7.22) on Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Cy Young contenders Zac Gallen, Spencer Strider go toe-to-toe in series finale