Brandon Pfaadt gives D-backs needed effective start in win over Cubs

Sep 15, 2023, 11:11 PM

Brandon Pfaadt...

Brandon Pfaadt (Arizona Sports Photo/Felisa Cardenas)

(Arizona Sports Photo/Felisa Cardenas)

PHOENIX — Brandon Pfaadt ended a dubious stretch of Arizona Diamondbacks starts with 5.1 shutout innings in a 6-4 win against the visiting Chicago Cubs on Friday.

The D-backs built a lead on a pair of two-out, three-run shots against Cubs ace Justin Steele to earn a season series-clinching victory over a fellow National League Wild Card contender.

Pfaadt was efficient early to get the D-backs off on the right foot at 48 pitches through four scoreless frames. It was a page turn after D-backs starters allowed 22 earned runs in their last four games against the New York Mets (three losses).

The rookie right-hander worked with a lead, as Lourdes Gurriel Jr. walloped a three-run homer to left field with in the first inning. Alek Thomas doubled the advantage in the sixth with his second long ball against a lefty this season.

The D-backs’ bullpen kept Chicago off the scoreboard until the ninth inning. Kyle Nelson allowed three runs on two screaming homers, forcing manager Torey Lovullo to turn to closer Paul Sewald.

Sewald’s first pitch was sent 415 feet to left field off the bat of Christopher Morel, but the reliever successfully shut the door.

“That was not an easy situation for us to walk through in New York,” Lovullo said. “We were all frustrated. I could look down the bench and see the frustration on the players’ faces. I’m sure the players who looked down could see the frustration on the coaches’ faces.

“So for us to reverse that — we got on a plane very late last night, got in late, came out and played baseball — that was a big statement by this team. I was very proud of us for that.”

The Cubs’ lead as the second NL Wild Card team over the D-backs shrunk to 1.5 games, while Arizona kept pace with the Cincinnati Reds in a tie for the third and final spot.

The Reds own the tie-breaker against the Diamondbacks, but now the D-backs hold that card over the Cubs. The Miami Marlins trail by 0.5 games after a win Friday, and the San Francisco Giants are back one game following a loss.

Brandon Pfaadt deals

Pfaadt faced a very similar Cubs lineup on Sunday when he allowed four runs in his first three innings at Wrigley Field. He ended the outing with three shutout innings and carried that into Friday.

An adjustment he pointed out was using the sinker more the complement the sweeper, as opposed to his changeup.

“I think being able to mix up your game plan and build on what happened the week before, good or bad, use that to your advantage,” Pfaadt said. “… It’s definitely easier when you have the lead to attack guys and go out there and trust your stuff in the zone.”

He produced 11 whiffs and struck out six hitters, finishing two with the sinker. He allowed four hits and one walk.

Lovullo pulled Pfaadt at 73 pitches with a runner on first and one out in the sixth inning. Ian Happ and Cody Bellinger, Chicago’s Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, were due up.

The D-backs have two rookies in the rotation with Pfaadt and Ryne Nelson. Down to the wire here, Lovullo has shortened his leash.

“With our youngsters, I’ll say right this now, I’m gonna go 18 plus or minus four (batters),” Lovullo said. “That’s kind of what I’m looking at as far as a batter total. If it’s built in that we’ve got a nice lead, I might extend that a little bit.”

Andrew Saalfrank recorded the final two outs in the sixth, Ryan Thompson threw a 1-2-3 seventh and Kevin Ginkel struck out a pair in a scoreless eighth inning.

D-backs jump on Steele

Steele entered Friday’s game second in the NL in ERA at 2.49 and in quality starts with 20. He had not allowed more than five runs in a start this season.

The D-backs, meanwhile, scored 10 runs in four games in New York. But they put together quality at-bats to set up the two home runs.

Ketel Marte singled up the middle to lead off the bottom of the first. Corbin Carroll bunted down the first-base line to move Marte over, and with two outs, Christian Walker drew a four-pitch walk.

Gurriel attacked a first-pitch slider on the inner half of the plate and hit a no-doubter, taking a second to watch it fly over the wall.

Arizona had not scored a run in the first inning in over a week.

Steele settled in, allowing no runs and three hits over his next four innings, but he walked Walker to lead off the sixth.

Gabriel Moreno smoked a line drive into right field with two outs ahead of Thomas, who also sent a first-pitch slider that caught too much plate into the seats. His shot was more of a wall-scraper, a line drive that snuck over.

Hitting coach Joe Mather told Thomas to expect a slider early in the count since he was on the fastball earlier. Thomas said he did not think it would get over.

The outfielder has dramatic splits with a .742 OPS vs. righties and .341 OPS against lefties, and going yard off of a Cy Young contending southpaw was gratifying.

“Just trying to stay through the ball and just get good pitches to hit,” Thomas said of adjusting to lefties. “It’s tough. I think for me it’s just really try and see the ball up, swing at good pitches and stay through the ball.”

Moreno, meanwhile, finished the day 4-for-4 with three singles and a double. He became the 11th D-backs catcher to record four hits in a single game and sixth to go 4-for-4.

The 23-year-old is hitting .348 over his last 21 games with eighth multi-hit performances. Friday was his second game coming off the paternity list.

“Gabi, putting him back behind the plate is one thing. It’s the catch and release, the ability to control the game from a game planning standpoint, he just continues to grow and check boxes in that area,” Lovullo said. “Then it’s an unbelievable approach today that led to four hits. … He was right in the middle of everything.”

Celebrating Roberto Clemente

Friday was Roberto Clemente Day in MLB, and fellow Puerto Rican Emmanuel Rivera honored the late Hall of Famer by changing his jersey number from 15 to Clemente’s 21 for the day. Teams wore No. 21 patches on their jerseys, while many players wore gear or temporarily changed their number to pay tribute to the legendary player and humanitarian.

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