D-backs rookie Andrew Saalfrank relishing 1st MLB experience in midst of playoff push

Sep 12, 2023, 3:48 PM | Updated: 4:44 pm

Andrew Saalfrank...

Relief pitcher Andrew Saalfrank #57 of the Arizona Diamondbacks pitches against the Colorado Rockies during the sixth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on September 05, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. Saalfrank made his major league debut. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Andrew Saalfrank’s first crack at the major leagues has come in the midst of a pennant chase with the club in a sprint for a National League Wild Card spot.

So far, the left-hander has handled himself with three scoreless outings since his call-up on Sept. 4. He told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Tuesday that he thinks the circumstances he’s jumped into have helped.

“I think coming into the situation with a playoff push, it doesn’t really allow much time for overthinking,” Saalfrank said.

“It’s really just go out there and get the job done or do your best to get the job done. So I think it’s honestly best case scenario for me, just coming into an environment where it’s like, ‘Hey we don’t have time to mess around. We gotta get the guys out.'”

His debut was a rousing personal success, as he sat down all five hitters he faced while punching out a pair against the Colorado Rockies. His family was in the stands, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation for the effort.

But the D-backs lost 3-2, which Saalfrank said soured the experience given how close the club is to its goal of postseason play.

“Trying to separate the personal win as far as like making it and accomplishing that dream but at the same time and like I said, we’re trying to win some ballgames here,” Saalfrank said.

“So losing that game certainly kind of took away from that a little bit. Because you’re here, right? Like your whole job is to win games and and even if you do well, personally, if you don’t win the game, you fail for the day, right?

“I’m not trying to be too negative or anything, but at the end of the day, we just want to win some ballgames. It’s been a few years since we’ve had this level of success so just trying to finish off the season.”

Saalfrank’s next two outings came in a critical series at the Chicago Cubs last weekend, and the D-backs trusted him in big spots. He entered the series opener with two outs and a runner on second base with Arizona ahead 3-1. Saalfrank struck out Ian Happ on a 2-2 curveball for his first career hold.

Two nights later, manager Torey Lovullo called on the rookie to take care of the eighth inning during a 1-1 ballgame. He allowed his first hit with two outs courtesy of Dansby Swanson, but he kept the score even and Arizona earned a victory in extra innings.

Saalfrank is one of three left-handed options in Arizona’s bullpen with Joe Mantiply and Kyle Nelson, giving him a specific role. D-backs relivers have not fared well against left-handed hitters with a bottom 12 ERA, FIP, hard hit rate and walk rate in MLB.

Arizona’s bullpen, despite its lumps this year, is having perhaps its best stretch with an MLB-best 1.47 ERA over the past seven days.

“The fellas have been awesome, very welcoming and the energy down in the bullpen is electric,” Saalfrank said. “Everyone’s feeding off of each other.”

The D-backs have counted on youth all season in their chase to end a five-year postseason drought. That has been amplified in the final month with the selection of Saalfrank and especially 21-year-old shortstop Jordan Lawlar.

Where is Saalfrank on prospect rankings?

Saalfrank missed a lot of game reps in the minors over the years and wasn’t on MLB Pipeline’s top 30 prospects list for Arizona at the time of his call-up.

He did not throw in a single game in 2020 or 2021 due to the canceled MiLB season and Tommy John surgery. He returned in 2022 and reached Double-A Amarillo by late July. Less than a year later, he was on the doorstep of MLB with Triple-A Reno. Saalfrank said that first outing back after two years was nerve-wracking.

“Once we got that first one out of the way, it’s just doing what I can to take care of myself and to stay healthy and stay on the field,” Saalfrank said. “It was an interesting two years, but I’m pretty grateful for for those two years, I think I was just able to mature a lot as a person on and off the field.”

“Andrew joining us is a great player development story,” Lovullo said when he was called up. “You heard a lot about (Slade) Cecconi and (Bryce) Jarvis and (Drey) Jameson. You didn’t hear a lot about Saalfrank, but he just kept rising and player development did a great job of teaching him, he accepted it and he’s found himself in the big leagues.”

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