Diamondbacks begin rotating 3B after Eugenio Suarez’s struggles

Jun 12, 2024, 4:58 PM

Eugenio Suárez #28 of the Arizona Diamondbacks throws out Jurickson Profar #10 of the San Diego Pa...

Eugenio Suárez #28 of the Arizona Diamondbacks throws out Jurickson Profar #10 of the San Diego Padres after he bunted during the fifth inning of a game at Petco Park on June 06, 2024 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — With the severe lack of production from Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Eugenio Suarez, it was more about when and not if he would move to a lesser role on the team.

The when was Wednesday against the Los Angeles Angels.

The lineup card was just the fourth this season to not include Suarez and the first that was not on a Sunday afternoon the day after playing the previous night. Suarez only sat the whole game for one of those, an April 14 matchup with the St. Louis Cardinals that was game number three of a run of 13 in 13 days.

D-backs manager Torey Lovullo confirmed Wednesday was not a normal rest day for Suarez and was instead about getting more looks at Blaze Alexander at third base while confirming this is Day 1 of a change for the position.

“He’s getting a day off because I want to get a look at Blaze and see what he can do over there,” Lovullo said. “I’m very curious about Blaze. Offensively, been playing at a very high level. The defense has been improving rapidly. So I just felt like it was time to give him a few more opportunities and a few more reps.”

The veteran Suarez takes a ton of pride in owning the label of an everyday player. From 2016-23, Suarez played in 1,131 of a possible 1,194 games, the fourth-most in baseball over that span, per Stathead. On top of Suarez going through the struggle we see lots of older players go through when they appear to be significantly declining and no longer will be the player they once were, that is another layer Lovullo is attempting to handle.

“He is grinding as hard as anybody and trying as hard as he possibly can without getting the results that he wants,” Lovullo said, noting this was indeed the breaking point for no longer playing Suarez every day.

Suarez went 0-for-4 in Tuesday’s 9-4 win, bringing his tally in June to 4-for-35 with three walks and just two extra-base hits. His OPS sits at .575, over a 200-point from Suarez’s career average. He has never been a hitter for average and strikes out a ton but what Suarez has always done is hit homers to make up for it and he’s on pace for just 12 off FanGraph’s projections after averaging 30 a season once he became an everyday player in 2016. He has been dependable defensively but it isn’t enough to bring the proper value.

Lovullo has had a handful of conversations with Suarez over the season and has applauded the third baseman’s professionalism through it. The latest when it relates to this move was “more on the process and preparation more than anything” because he wants Suarez to maintain the correct routine.

“I set up something very realistic to him about his preparation in the weight room, his preparation in the cage, his preparation for pregame stuff and to go out there and just continue to working hard and he’s going to have good results because he’s going to play,” Lovullo said. “It’s not like he’s getting benched. He’s going to play.”

The month will end with the D-backs having seen the halfway point of the season and Arizona has given Suarez plenty of time to figure it out. Given how the D-backs’ alternative at the moment is a platoon of four different shortstops manning third base, he got more than he would have in a lot of other scenarios.

“It’s a really nice feeling to have knowing that we have some super athletes that are really good shortstops waiting to play baseball,” Lovullo said of that.

And Arizona needs this time now to sift through those four guys to see what its got. Geraldo Perdomo will surely be an everyday name on the left side of the infield and his role was a hot storyline coming into this year because No. 1 prospect Jordan Lawlar made his MLB debut in September. Perdomo returned to the lineup on Monday, as did Lawlar in Triple-A Reno, where he was a triple shy of the cycle.

Alexander and Kevin Newman both have their work cut out for them to hold down a roster spot while doing a wonderful job as that pair got healthy, particularly with Alek Thomas’ activation on tap within the next two-to-three weeks and his replacement Jake McCarthy touting a .770 OPS. Pavin Smith was sent down in place of Perdomo, with his role as an extra left-handed bat now presumably going to McCarthy, who can also serve as a reserve outfielder alongside Randal Grichuk.

That could be Alexander or Newman making way for Thomas and that’s before getting to the strong likelihood that Lawlar comes up. The top reason he was with Reno to begin the year was because Arizona wanted to get him playing time and knew there wasn’t going to be much if any to offer at short or third. That has now changed.

“We were in a pretty desperate spot in the third week of April. … Thank goodness for Kevin Newman for coming in and slowing it down for us and doing a good job,” Lovullo said of the time when both Perdomo and Lawlar were injured, noting it was so dire that the D-backs began looking deep into their Triple-A roster for options beyond the obvious ones.

Newman and Alexander have each earned a right to stay. But that’s not how it works.

Newman has provided more at the plate than expected, a spring invite with over 500 games of MLB experience that has an OPS north of .750 since the beginning of May. Alexander smacked the labels off baseballs in spring to make the roster and has held that up as a rookie with a .748 OPS.

Newman is the better defender while Alexander’s erratic start defensively has stabilized as of late but there’s still a sizable gap of reliability there. Alexander, in particular, really meshes with the D-backs style of play given his unique energy with some pop in his bat and speed around the basepaths. Arizona’s style also starts with defense, so that favors Newman.

It’s always an audition of sorts for players called up from Triple-A but now that it is clear that Suarez’s situation has changed, the pressure mounts on both infielders to continue showing why they belong. And don’t just cast aside Suarez in this equation, either. Like Lovullo said, he’s going to play, and Suarez getting designated for assignment will be considered if he continues a season-long slump, especially when the roster decisions come.

Lovullo said he did not have an answer on if a DFA conversation has taken place, confirming he “has a seat at the table” for the talks on roster moves.

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