Diamondbacks’ Ryne Nelson shows what he’s been working on in 1st spring training start

Feb 24, 2024, 5:03 PM

Ryne Nelson...

SCOTTSDALE — Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Ryne Nelson’s struggles to miss bats and induce strikeouts last season were not present during his first start of spring training at Salt River Fields on Saturday.

Nelson, a competitor for the fifth spot in the starting rotation, punched out five of the eight Colorado Rockies he faced with eight whiffs between his fastball and slider. He matched fellow starter Tommy Henry’s Friday performance with two scoreless innings, although he faced more adversity after allowing two hard-hit singles in the first inning.

Aside from a handful of misses to both the glove and arm sides, Nelson felt the outing came with a lot of positives.

“It’s been a focus of swing-and-miss, so I think the more I focus on that, the strikeouts will come — and execution as well,” Nelson said postgame. “So I think those (strikeouts) are a byproduct of what I’ve been working on.”

Nelson said he wants his slider to be harder with a fastball line and break off, and it registered on Statcast as a cutter in the mid 80s mph. He threw one changeup and two curveballs on Saturday out of 33 pitches, as he was primarily fastball-slider and abandoned a sweeper-like pitch completely.

The heater ticked up in the first inning into the uppers 90s, which happened from time to time last season.

He cooled it down after falling behind 3-0 to the lead-off hitter in the second inning, and the four-seamer averaged 95.2 mph (94.4 mph in 2023). He dotted it well, and 41% of his pitches were whiffs or called strikes.

“Nelly I thought was really good,” manager Torey Lovullo said postgame. “The velocity looked like it was spiking. He started mixing in a really quality secondary pitch with that slider, I know that was something I’ve been emphasizing. I know he’s been working hard on it and he got a ton of swing-and-miss.”

Nelson’s rookie year had its highs and lows, as he finished with a 5.31 ERA in 27 starts with only six strikeouts per nine innings. He was optioned in August to work on his secondary stuff before coming back up in September.

Being more direct to home was another offseason task of the right-hander, who showed up to Salt Rivers Fields a couple weeks after the World Series and has been working here for most of the offseason.

“I think the body posture was good and the extension,” Nelson said. “Obviously there was a couple — like on the pull side — fastballs that maybe got a little bit out of it, but making the adjustment and getting back to it was good.”

Lovullo praised Nelson and Henry pregame for their respective approaches during this competition, explaining the difficulty of picking one for the starting rotation behind Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Brandon Pfaadt and Eduardo Rodriguez.

“I really enjoy both guys,” Lovullo said. “They’re always willing to learn, always accepting of the coaching, which for me is part of being a great player and a great teammate.

“… Those are some of the bases you want to always get to with young pitchers, making sure you’re handling that. If one isn’t, the evaluation is a snap, you know which direction you want to go. But when they’re so even on every level, it is a really big challenge.”

The D-backs will hand the ball to Slade Cecconi, who continues to compete for the starting role, Sunday against the Chicago White Sox at Salt River Fields.

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