D-backs switch up rotation to maximize Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly in postseason push

Aug 24, 2023, 6:22 PM

Zac Gallen...

Starting pitcher Zac Gallen #23 of the Arizona Diamondbacks is removed by manager Torey Lovullo #17 during the seventh inning of the MLB game against the Kansas City Royals at Chase Field on April 26, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks switched up their starting rotation for this weekend’s series against the Cincinnati Reds, moving Merrill Kelly ahead of rookie Brandon Pfaadt to open the slate on Thursday.

Zac Gallen and Kelly are back together again in the Starting 5, and the two are probable to pitch consecutive games next series at the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The change, manager Torey Lovullo explained, is to get the most out of their top duo during Arizona’s postseason push with matchups in mind. The D-backs opened Thursday 0.5 games back of a playoff spot with 35 contests remaining.

“Just a lot of good deep baseball conversations that started with where do we want Zac and Merrill the land throughout the rest of the year,” Lovullo said on Thursday.

“So if you project it and build it out for the rest of the year, you’ll tell yourself the story that’s pretty close to what we were thinking. So we want to maximize Zac and Merrill’s ability to hit the right teams and pitch as often as possible in the most critical moments.”

Lovullo said the two will be “pretty much full throttling” down the stretch, not to say there won’t be an extra day of rest for them at some point. Gallen needs four more starts to tie a career high at 31, and he is on pace to reach 200 innings for the first time.

The D-backs had their top two pitchers split up in the rotation for much of the second half of this season, and Kelly missed a month of games due to a blood clot in his right calf. Wednesday’s off day gave the Diamondbacks the chance to use Gallen against the Reds on Sunday, but the club opted to keep him ready to go against the Dodgers.

The rest of the weekend rotation against Cincinnati is Pfaadt on Friday, Zach Davies off the 15-day injured list (back) on Saturday and prospect Slade Cecconi in the series finale.

Arizona has been in a fluctuation period with the starting rotation for much of the second half of the year. Kelly, Davies and Tommy Henry have missed significant time, with Henry currently on the 60-day IL (elbow). This has forced Lovullo into some new strategies, including openers and bullpen games.

Even with Davies returning, the manager said he will still need to be creative with the pitching staff, which has won three bullpen games in the past couple weeks.

“We need to be, we absolutely have to be,” Lovullo said. “You’re gonna give the ball to Zac Gallen 30-plus times this year. If we had four Zac Gallens … I wouldn’t have to be creative. I’d be asleep for the first seven innings with really good starters and then ‘Oh yeah, we’ll put him in.’ I can’t do that right now. We got to find ways and we’ll be as creative as possible.”

Lovullo has called Gallen and Kelly situationally aware of where they stand in the rotation and who is available. How much he pushes them will depend on factors such as the effectiveness of Arizona’s other three starts and the bullpen’s usage.

“I have to be mindful of being able to carry them for the next however many starts they both have at 100%, and then on those particular days when a little bit more is needed, I’ll ask for it. They’re such great teammates that they’ll respond,” Lovullo said.

Kelly and Gallen, who both made their D-backs debuts in 2019, have not been in a playoff race since their first seasons in Arizona. Gallen was traded to the Diamondbacks at the deadline that year, so this is a different experience he’s enjoying.

“I think I was somewhat oblivious that I got traded to a pennant race … I wasn’t here the whole year, so I wasn’t sure how it shaped up,” Gallen said.

“So I kind of got a little taste of it. Now to be here for a whole year and kind of see the ebbs and flows of how it’s going, it’s fun, I mean, it’s just a different energy. One of your goals every year is to play meaningful baseball in September, and then do what you have to do in October.”

Gallen and Kelly account for 6.7 WAR together this year (FanGraphs) even with Kelly’s absence. Arizona is 28-21 when they pitch and 38-40 in all other games.

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