‘Mental leap’: Diamondbacks’ Slade Cecconi breaks down disconnect after loss to Reds

May 14, 2024, 11:23 PM

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo...

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, left, takes the baseball from Diamondbacks starting pitcher Slade Cecconi (43) during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Slade Cecconi has been as dominant as any starter in baseball the first time through an opposing batting order, and that continued Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds.

He did not give up a hit until his 12th batter, yet his final line was 5.2 innings and a grisly six earned runs in a 6-2 loss.

Cecconi became the only pitcher of the past 50 years to throw 2.0 perfect innings in five straight starts at any point of a season but has faced problems maintaining that ember.

He challenged himself after the game to make a mental adjustment, aiming to get rid of a bad habit.

“When I find myself getting hit is when I find myself looking to place the ball,” Cecconi said. “I’ll usually maybe take a mile an hour or two off a pitch to try to execute it. I’m learning that can’t happen, that’s not going to play at this level. The better thing to do is always throw my best stuff.

“… As unfortunate as today was, I’m looking to use today as the day I take the mental leap.”

Here are opposing hitter splits against Cecconi this year:

First time: 1-for-43, 12 Ks
Second time: 15-39, 6 Ks

The right-hander’s fastball velocity had a wide range, up to 96.7 mph and down to 89.7 mph. He felt this was not a fatigue issue. He ripped a couple 96 mph heaters in his last at-bat to punch out Jonathan India.

Cecconi noticed himself placing the ball especially when behind in counts, which he seldom was the first round through the order. Cecconi was in attack mode with his fastball and effectively using the changeup, getting through three innings with only 34 pitches.

“They were swinging a lot early that first time through. I think the second time through we used the curveball more early and I wasn’t landing it,” Cecconi said. “But I think that was what got in my head a little bit where I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not landing that first pitch, I’m behind, let me get back into the count.’ That can’t happen anymore.”

The Reds scored two runs each in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings and went 7-for-14 at the plate against Cecconi after the third frame. Will Benson hit a two-run shot to take a 4-2 lead in the fifth, one the Reds never relinquished. Cecconi left the game with four runs charged to him, but Logan Allen let in a pair of inherited runners with two outs.

Manager Torey Lovullo and catcher Tucker Barnhart had a conversation in the middle innings when the catcher was noticing a difference out there.

“When you place the baseball, there’s a lack of finish to it and that’s when hitters really squared it up,” Lovullo said.  “Ninety-six with a fearless, attacking mentality is going to get you better results than trying to place the baseball with no finish.”

“I don’t know what attributes to that necessarily, but of a lot of times when you get into a little bit of trouble, everybody tends to try to do maybe a little bit more, try to get three outs with one pitch,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said.

Cecconi said this issue has popped up in the past, but he figured it had to do with conditioning. Plus he was more equipped to get away with it at lower levels.

Lovullo has brought up Cecconi needing to get through a lineup thrice effectively multiple times before. This was a reason he was optioned to Triple-A Reno last year and out of the race for the fifth starter role at the end of spring training.

The manager said maintaining Cecconi’s stuff has been on his mind since he’s been watching him pitch. Cecconi is still only nine starts into his big league career, and most of them have been solid. It’s hard not to be tantalized by the highs of these starts, the potential they show. And the D-backs need him with the pitching injuries that continued to test the depth of the roster.

“I know I’ve been very critical of Slade, but I know he’s capable of doing more. That’s what we are supposed to do as coaches and teachers is challenge our guys to be the best version of themselves,” Lovullo said.

Hunter Greene deals vs. Diamondbacks

Arizona’s offense did not build many innings off Reds starter Hunter Greene, who went seven innings with two earned runs.

The D-backs took a 2-0 lead in the third on a Blaze Alexander two-out, two-run knock the other way. After that, the Diamondbacks had four hits, not more than one in any inning.

Kevin Newman stayed hot with a 2-for-2 night. He has multiple hits in four straight games, the only D-backs hitter to do so this season.

Ketel Marte and Gabriel Moreno had the night off and will start on Wednesday.

Diamondbacks’ next game

The rubber match is Wednesday at 12:40 p.m. D-backs right-hander Brandon Pfaadt (4.60 ERA) matches up with Reds southpaw Andrew Abbott (3.35 ERA).

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‘Mental leap’: Diamondbacks’ Slade Cecconi breaks down disconnect after loss to Reds