Diamondbacks don’t plan to back down on finding creative pitching solutions

Aug 26, 2023, 5:03 PM | Updated: 5:09 pm

Manager Torey Lovullo...

Manager Torey Lovullo relieves Scott McGough #30 as Geraldo Perdomo #2 and Gabriel Moreno #14 of the Arizona Diamondbacks look on during the third inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at PETCO Park on August 19, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo described his club as in “full throttle.” The D-backs entered play Saturday in the second National League Wild Card spot with four teams within three games of them.

Part of this all-in mindset involves the handling of his pitching staff, specifically the unorthodox ways Arizona has deployed its bullpen due to the lack of starting pitching caused by injuries and Ryne Nelson getting optioned. 

In the past 10 games, Joe Mantiply has started two contests and Scott McGough has opened one, as Lovullo has turned to five openers this season. The D-backs won their last three games using a strategy that had not been prominent for them in the past under Lovullo. 

The manager joked that he was criticized for years for being boring in his pitching management and now he’s heard, “this guy’s lost his mind.”

“I think for those early years, the staff that was carrying us you just sat down and put your seatbelt on and you watched the game for five innings,” Lovullo said. “Things are a little different now … we got to be creative, because I want to protect everybody that I possibly can and put them in the right pockets.”

The Diamondbacks have Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly to lean on up top, with Lovullo having the rest of their starts and matchups mapped out.

Then its Brandon Pfaadt, Arizona’s top pitching prospect entering the year who struggled mightily to keep runs off the board early. Since his latest call-up in July, Pfaadt has provided needed length and stability in the rotation with a 3.03 ERA in five starts this month. He said getting MLB games under his belt has helped him settle in, along with adjustments made such as his starting point on the first-base side of the rubber.

Zach Davies was reinstated from the injured list to start Saturday’s game vs. the Cincinnati Reds, giving Arizona a fourth starter for the first time in weeks.

With Davies and Tommy Henry on the injured list — Henry is on the 60-day IL — Arizona had to maneuver, especially since it was fighting to climb back into the wild card race after losing nine games in a row to start August.

Slade Cecconi has produced in a hybrid role, as he has not been unleashed to start and go deep into a game but has tossed 15.1 innings in four appearances.

Cecconi entered his last outing in the third inning and gave Arizona five frames in relief. He is slated to start Sunday’s series finale against the Reds.

“I’m with it if that’s what’s gonna win ballgames,” Cecconi said. “Whatever the coaching staff thinks is the best game plan to go out there and get a win is what I’m going to support.”

“Slade was ready for this opportunity,” Lovullo said. “We just want to protect everything we can to help us win a baseball game and avoid dark spots. And maybe that feels like we’re picking on Slade, but we’re just trying to push him along and develop him as best we possibly can to be a very good starter for a long time.”

Lovullo explained that a game plan could have a targeted group the D-backs want Cecconi to face twice instead of three times, insight into how the staff is dissecting their matchups to set up these nontraditional games.

The D-backs still have their charts for who is available on a given night, and while Lovullo said he’s going to push his group, he has to keep an eye on workloads. Since Aug. 12, Gallen, Kelly, Pfaadt and Cecconi have made up 63.1 innings. Relievers have accounted for 54.1.

“I might be a little bit more aggressive with some of the mindsets or thoughts of pulling a pitcher out early, knowing we’ve got a fully gassed bullpen or conversely, maybe letting them run a little bit longer,” Lovullo said. “My mindset is winning every inch in every moment that we can, and then doing everything I can to stop a momentum run from the opposition.”

As someone whose role has shifted with these new puzzles in place, McGough said he tries to keep his routine similar but that it has been a fun experiment. Each of his last two appearances have been early in a game as opposed to a high-leverage spot.

“I think certain times when they know in advance, they let us know what’s going on, but sometimes you don’t,” McGough said. “As soon as they know, they let us know and kind of tell us that kind of stuff. So it’s just how it’s been working the last few weeks. It’s been fluid.”

The Diamondbacks have 17 games in a row starting next weekend, so while the idea is for Davies to alleviate the need to lean as heavily on the bullpen, Lovullo said they still need find creative ways to piece together wins.

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