Diamondbacks-Brewers preview: Brandon Pfaadt honored to start Game 1 as rookie
Oct 3, 2023, 12:30 PM | Updated: 12:30 pm
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE — Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen broke the big news to starter rookie Brandon Pfaadt during the club’s postseason-clinching celebration on Saturday night.
Pfaadt was pegged to start Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series at the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday. He will be only the third D-backs rookie to start a playoff game after Micah Owings in 2007 and Josh Collmenter in 2011, according to Stathead.
“It’s kind of an honor,” Pfaadt said on Monday. “They told me when we were celebrating in the in the clubhouse, and I was kind of like, ‘Let’s go, give me the ball.’ Then we get to (Zac) Gallen in Game 2 and I think we’re looking good.”
This will be Pfaadt’s 20th MLB outing. He pitched in the Triple-A postseason in 2022 and performed well, but this is a much different environment. He said he’s never even attended a MLB playoff game before.
“I’ve always been taught pressure is a privilege, so that’s kind of what I take out there and use to my advantage,” Pfaadt said.
The decision was made for a few reasons. Gallen and Merrill Kelly were knocked back to Games 2 and 3 after having to pitch over the weekend with clinching a postseason spot on the line.
The D-backs failed to add a starting pitcher at the trade deadline, something Hazen has said he’s regretful for but some prices were too high, such as trading outfielder Alek Thomas.
And Pfaadt grabbed a firm hold of the No. 3 starter job in the second half of the season.
A touted prospect entering the year, Pfaadt had extreme ups and downs. He was hit very hard after coming up in May, getting sent down after five starts and a 9.82 ERA. He came back for a day in late June and was sent back out after allowing six runs to the Tampa Bay Rays.
The D-backs moved him to the first-base side of the rubber to create more deception with his arm angle and pitch shaping.
He started to put together some quality starts.
“(Manager Torey Lovullo) said to Brandon when we sent him down, ‘We’re sending you down right now, but you’re gonna be back here in the second half pitching meaningful baseball games for us,'” Hazen said. “That’s proved to be very truthful not just for tomorrow, but for the better part of the last month. He going to be handed a challenge, but we believe in his stuff and his makeup and his preparation that he’s capable of handling this.”
The rookie had some clutch outings down the stretch, throwing 5.2 scoreless innings at home against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 15 to open a three-game sweep. He threw 5.1 shutout frames at the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday, the final win of Arizona’s regular season.
“Because of those improvements and because of his ability to command the baseball and walk it around the zone with not just the fastball but with three other pitches, we felt like that was going to give us the best opportunity to win baseball games,” Lovullo said.
The final six weeks of Pfaadt’s rookie year have not been perfect. Since the start of August, he has a 4.14 ERA and 3.89 FIP, a vast improvement with some clunkers mixed in.
The D-backs will have a gassed up bullpen, and Lovullo said he plans to do everything he can to stop momentum swings.
Regardless, the D-backs will count on Pfaadt to get them off on the right foot against a Brewers team that isn’t an offensive juggernaut but one with veterans who are well above average hitters like Christian Yelich, Mark Canha and William Contreras.
Milwaukee will start Corbin Burnes, a Cy Young winner with postseason experience. Brewers manager Craig Counsell said on Monday, “That’s the way you want to start a playoff series, giving the ball to a guy like Corbin Burnes.”
The D-backs have a unique pitching situation, but Pfaadt pitched himself into this opportunity.
“It’s cool to see, I would loved to in my rookie year been in this spot,” Gallen said. “I’m happy for him. It’s been fun to watch.”