Diamondbacks’ Ryne Nelson delivers best home start in years to defeat Cardinals

Apr 13, 2024, 9:38 PM

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Ryne Nelson...

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Ryne Nelson throws to a St. Louis Cardinals batter during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, April 13, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks starter Ryne Nelson walked off the mound at Chase Field to a standing ovation for successfully walking the high wire to emerge with a victory against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday.

That was a cool moment for Nelson, whose away success (3.46 ERA) and home struggles (8.25 ERA) last season followed him into his first two outings of 2024 before Saturday’s 4-2 win.

Manager Torey Lovullo called it a great night for his starting pitcher, whom he trusted to work through a grueling jam to keep the Cardinals at one run through six innings.

After facing runners on second and third with nobody out, Nelson elevated a heater past Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker to end the inning and strand the bases loaded. Nelson let out a yell while pumping his fists as he walked back to the dugout.

The offense carried that jolt in the ballpark and used it to ignite a rally punctuated by a Lourdes Gurriel Jr. three-run home run to take a 4-1 lead.

“Those are those big swing moments, you can feel it happening in the dugout, you can feel it happen on the field,” Lovullo said.

The last time Nelson threw at least six innings with fewer than three runs allowed at home was Sept. 12, 2022, during his first cup of coffee in the majors.

“It definitely feels good, because usually I’m not walking too happy here, or I haven’t in the past, but it’s nice to get in front of the home crowd,” Nelson said.

St. Louis’ Nolan Gorman hit a ground-rule double to put runners on second and third to start the sixth inning in a 1-1 game, and Nelson would see himself in the past trying to blow fastballs by hitters to fight out of it.

Instead, he showed trust in a complementary pitch, his cutter, an element to his game he’s been striving for in the majors leagues be it with his slider or the cutter that nearly landed on the chopping block this spring.

During his previous start at Atlanta, Nelson, catcher Tucker Barnhart and pitching coach Brent Strom decided to move toward the cutter over the slider after what he felt were quality sliders got barreled.

“It probably looks like a fastball out of hand and then has just enough to get up in the barrel,” Nelson explained. “Sometimes with the slider, it’s a little bit slower, gives them more time to react so cutters kind of stays fastball plane for longer.”

Nolan Arenado chopped a cutter to third base, and Eugenio Suarez caught Paul Goldschmidt in a rundown. Nelson threw another cutter to Willson Contreras, who lined out to right field too shallow to score Gorman on third.

After an intentional walk to Lars Nootbaar, Walker dug in, and Nelson shut him down on three pitches: two cutters and the high four-seamer.

“I definitely appreciate Torey letting me get out of that,” Nelson said. “Second and third, no outs and you end up giving up zero, I think anybody would let out a celebratory scream maybe. Just good plays on defense, (Suarez) on the ground ball and Jake (McCarthy) coming in and making sure that guy couldn’t tag up, I don’t get through that if they don’t make those plays.”

Ryne Nelson blocks out the noise

Nelson continues to pitch for opportunities in the rotation. Jordan Montgomery is lined up to rejoin the starting five next weekend at the San Francisco Giants, so either Nelson or Tommy Henry will be squeezed out.

Lovullo credited Nelson with blocking out the noise to perform on Saturday — the same day as Montgomery’s second and potentially final tune-up start with Triple-A Reno.

“We’re constantly evaluating … Obviously, there’s a different evaluation for different guys at different times, given their position and with the abundance of starting pitching we know we have,” Lovullo said. “Jordan Montgomery coming back, we have a very tough decision. … I want everybody to block out that black noise and just go compete. Zip up the bubble and just go out there and let it eat on both sides of the ball.”

Nelson’s line on Saturday was 6.0 innings, one earned run, seven hits, one walk and four strikeouts on only 81 pitches.

Kyle Nelson, Ryan Thompson and Kevin Ginkel stitched together the final nine outs with some traffic, as Goldschmidt lined into an inning-ending double play in the seventh against Nelson. Thompson struck out Masyn Winn with two runners on in the eighth.

The D-backs evened the series with a rubber match Sunday in which Zac Gallen will take the ball for his fourth start. St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas will be his counterpart.

First pitch is at 1:10 p.m. on ESPN 620 AM and the Arizona Sports app. 

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