Diamondbacks’ Brandon Pfaadt hopes to follow Merrill Kelly’s lead in World Series vs. Rangers
Oct 30, 2023, 7:40 AM | Updated: 8:57 am
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PHOENIX — Fifteen years ago, Max Scherzer was an Arizona Diamondbacks prospect looking to establish himself in MLB.
Scherzer got to learn from some of the game’s best arms in Brandon Webb, Dan Haren and Randy Johnson after his return to Arizona.
He’s thrown 29 postseason games since then and is in his third World Series, pitching for the Texas Rangers against the Diamondbacks.
The veteran’s counterpart in Game 3 will be Brandon Pfaadt, a 25-year-old who has worked this year through send-downs and deep home runs to pitch in the major leagues effectively.
Similarly, Pfaadt credited his veteran mentors like Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen for helping him adapt to major league life.
“I think ever since I got called up, heck, even during spring training, just even watching them work day in, day out, you can pick up on things, pick up on routines, you can ask them questions about their game planning,” Pfaadt said on Sunday. “I think those two things have been huge for me and huge for my growth. Having those two guys at the top of the rotation has been key for not only me but for relievers to set that ground rule and show everybody how it’s done.”
Kelly pitched a gem in Game 2 to lead Arizona to a 9-1 win and even the series coming back to the Valley. He threw seven innings with one earned run, nine strikeouts and no walks.
Pfaadt called a Kelly standard-setter for how to attack the Rangers for the rest of the series.
Kelly said postgame he executed his game plan, doing so with exceptional command to work the edges. He worked the low-outside corner against lead-off man Marcus Semien and stayed on the outside half to Corey Seager, the weaker spots on their heat maps. Kelly changed eye levels for Evan Carter and Adolis Garcia, and the dangerous quartet went 1-for-12 against him.
Pfaadt will make his fifth start of the postseason, all of which have come in different forums. He pitched Game 1 of the wild card round in Milwaukee, the close-out Game 3 against the Dodgers at home, a critical Game 3 down 0-2 against the Phillies in the NLCS and Game 7 with a trip to the World Series on the line.
The rookie has handled the spotlight so far with a 2.70 ERA, and Arizona has won each of his starts.
“I think there’s always pressure in these moments, but that’s why, after repetition and practice, I think that’s where it all comes into play,” Pfaadt said. “We’ve had a few postseason starts now. So we’ve gotten that under our belt. I think the step gets higher and higher, but we’re ready for it.”
Pfaadt said attacking hitters efficiently and limiting damage early as he was able to do against the Phillies in 5.2 scoreless innings will be the focus, just like any other start as he tries to keep it as normal as possible.
Lovullo said Pfaadt keeps improving, and he’ll have conversations up until game time on whether to push him further than the 18-batter limit he’s been around each start. Game 4 will be a bullpen day, but the manager said he’ll read and react with an all-in mindset in Game 3.
“If we need to maneuver to the bullpen I’m going to take care of Game 3 during Game 3. I can’t worry about what some of the contingencies will be beyond that,” Lovullo said. “At times, I do have to have an open mind for Game 4. But we’re going to do our absolute best to do our job in Game 3.”
Scherzer is 39 years old now, and he’s had an uneven season with a shoulder injury causing him to miss more than a month of game action ahead of the ALCS.
He started two games in Texas’ seven-game series win over the Houston Astros but only for a total of 107 pitches. The right-hander said he’s getting back in the swing of things.
The Astros are a much different team than Arizona, which is coming off a 16-hit performance in Game 2.
“I understand, see the challenges they present. It’s going to be a grind to be able to go against them. Absolutely respect them. They’re playing great baseball,” Scherzer said.
“I think with Houston we saw that’s the power you’ve got to be able to handle that. This is much more the speed game. It’s just like you’ve got to be able to adapt to everything that’s going on. We understand what they can do. We know who can steal the bases, who can’t. And you’ve got to be very cognizant of that.”
Scherzer expressed it was fortunate for him to make his big league start in Arizona given the experience on the staff, even if it was short-lived. He said he wishes to compare notes with some of his ex-teammates at some point.
The D-backs traded him to the Detroit Tigers after the 2009 campaign in a three-team deal that sent pitchers Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson to Arizona.
Game 3 will be a battle of experience against youth with Scherzer’s 2,974.2 major-league innings to Pfaadt’s 112.2, including playoffs. But Pfaadt has not looked the part of a rookie doing this for the first time.