Diamondbacks need Zac Gallen the ace to survive World Series vs. Rangers

Nov 1, 2023, 2:20 PM | Updated: 2:24 pm

Zac Gallen...

Zac Gallen #23 of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on from the dugout during the second inning of the game against the New York Mets at Citi Field on September 13, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

(Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks faced a 3-2 deficit to the New York Yankees in the 2001 World Series and counted on ace pitchers Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling to keep the fight alive.

They did.

The Diamondbacks now face a 3-1 hole in their second-ever World Series, this time against the Texas Rangers. They similarly line up their top two starting pitchers to survive and force a Game 7. Zac Gallen gets the ball in Game 5 at Chase Field on Wednesday with a chance to give Merrill Kelly another go.

Gallen has been the ace of the staff over the past two seasons and could very well be a National League Cy Young finalist. But his postseason results have not lived up to the standards he has set. Arizona is 2-3 in his outings this postseason with three straight defeats.

In Game 1 of the World Series, he allowed two earned runs in the first inning but settled in to keep the Rangers at three runs through five frames. Arizona was ahead 5-3 when he left the game. In Game 5 against the Phillies in the NLCS, Gallen allowed two runs in the first inning and threw four shutout frames to follow before getting bit by the long ball in the sixth.

Both outings were serviceable enough for the D-backs to hang in there and win, but he hasn’t had an ace-like impact on the latter two rounds of the playoffs.

“We’ve got to remember that Zac spoils us. He goes out there and goes five, six, seven innings every single time,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “He is a human being. He’s going to have some good and bad moments. I think the reason why we’re seeing him in this point in time probably not throwing up nothing but zeros is command of his pitches, command of his secondary stuff.

“He can’t just walk out there and get the job done because of his name. … Just gotta be more efficient with his pitches, where they land and sequence them in the right way.”

At no point over the last two seasons has Gallen gone five straight appearances without a quality start, but his last four starts haven’t reached that criteria.

Gallen said his delivery felt more repeatable as he got deeper into Game 1 of the World Series, although he didn’t pinpoint why his execution in the first inning wasn’t as successful.

His velocity and spin rates were up, but he fell behind early and was burned on pitches over the plate.

How much of that is fatigue?

Gallen will likely cross the 240-inning threshold on Wednesday after never pitching more than 184 in an MLB season. He never received more than seven days rest during the regular season and is fighting through that extended workload. Game 5 will be his last start of 2023, barring any unforeseen move for Game 7.

“Hopefully, this isn’t the last time I’m experiencing this and this heavy of a workload,” Gallen said on Tuesday. “I’m still trying to get better each day.

“I just threw like a 35-pitch bullpen yesterday, where I think some people might try and taper it off … Until the final bell rings, I’m going to keep plugging away and keep seeing what the deal is with my delivery and all types of different things, feels and whatnot. Maybe not the greatest thing to be throwing as much as I am, but it’s what makes me feel prepared.”

He has not recorded an out in the seventh inning in October.

Gallen said he was throwing more between starts at the end of the regular season compared to 2022.

Pitching coach Brent Strom called Gallen a tinkerer at World Series Media Day and expressed the message that sometimes checkers work better than chess. He doesn’t see Gallen as fazed by the big moments but there is wear and tear he’ll have to overcome.

Kelly and Pfaadt have had signature moments this postseason with Kelly throwing 6.1 shutout innings against the Dodgers in the NLDS, conquering a club that had his number (0-11 record). He upped himself with seven frames of one-run pitching in Game 2 of the World Series against the Rangers, Arizona’s lone win.

Pfaadt had back-to-back scoreless starts in the NLDS and NLCS.

The question for Game 5 and the D-backs’ season is whether or not Gallen has enough left in the tank for one final gem.

“Another guy I’m betting on all day, every day with our backs up against the wall,” first baseman Christian Walker said on Tuesday. “He’s our guy.”

Brandon Pfaadt in the bullpen

Kelly was warming up in the bullpen late in Game 4. Lovullo explained that the D-backs pushed back his normal bullpen day so he would be available to pitch on Tuesday if the right situation arose.

Lovullo said the plan going into Game 5 is that Kelly would not be able to go, but Pfaadt could.

Wednesday lines up with Pfaadt’s side day after he threw 87 pitches on Monday.

“We’ll talk to him as he’s coming in here today as a possibility. All hands on deck,” Lovullo said.

The back end of the bullpen is gassed up with Ryan Thompson, Kevin Ginkel and Paul Sewald fresh. They can shorten the game if the D-backs are in position to win.

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Diamondbacks need Zac Gallen the ace to survive World Series vs. Rangers