PHOENIX – Before Thursday’s home opener put a damper on the start to the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks departed Southern California earlier this week with a respectable 3-3 record to begin one of the toughest April schedules in Major League Baseball.
Splitting both a four-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and a two-game set against the San Diego Padres, manager Torey Lovullo entered the Diamondbacks clubhouse dissatisfied, yet optimistic about his team’s performance entering their second series against the 2022 NL West champions.
“We’re a good baseball team. We’re an exciting baseball team. We’re loaded with athleticism and we’re trying to capitalize every key situation that we can,” Lovullo said pregame Thursday. “We haven’t particularly played our best baseball yet. It’s early, it’s only been six games. We might’ve played one good baseball game in the first six and we won three of them. But good things are on the way.”
Good fortune eluded the Diamondbacks (3-4) in a 5-2 loss at Chase Field and kept Lovullo’s count at “one good baseball game” after the opening week of the season came to a close. Falling behind 4-0 provided the sold-out crowd few moments to cheer through the first five innings after a Luke Air Force Base flyover during the national anthem and a ceremonial first pitch thrown out by Phoenix police officer Tyler Moldovan, who was shot eight times in December 2021.
The 2023 Diamondbacks will continue to iron out the kinks in Friday’s second game of the series in an effort to get the offense and pitching on track, starting with the closer role.
Lovullo has yet to name an official closer, but acknowledges that Drey Jameson could be in the mix for certain situations. The former starter turned reliever locked down his first career save Tuesday after the Diamondbacks rallied to score seven runs in the last four innings in an 8-6 win against the Padres.
“I’m just trying to succeed in any role that I’m put in,” Jameson said. “I don’t know what that’s ultimately going to be, but wherever I go in the bullpen … it’s the (goal) that I succeed in whatever I do.”
It was a non-issue in Thursday’s loss as Lovullo decides whether to declare an outright closer or give the job to multiple pitchers in the bullpen.
“Yeah, it’d be great if Mariano Rivera was on this team, but he’s not,” Lovullo said. “We got to find a way to win games. I outline certain thoughts, details or strategies that I have prior to the game for certain pitchers so they’re prepared. I think (the pitchers) appreciate that when they go into the game.”
Overall, starting pitching has been an improvement from last season, but there have been some notable bullpen hiccups along the way. Team ace Zac Gallen got lit up in both of his starts, including on Opening Day, ballooning his ERA to 7.59 in 10.2 innings. Madison Bumgarner also struggled in his debut, serving up five runs in the first inning of Saturday’s 10-1 loss.
After Bumgarner’s rough outing, the southpaw was sent back to Phoenix to be evaluated by the team’s medical staff after feeling some fatigue in his throwing arm. After undergoing an MRI, the medical team cleared Bumgarner to make Friday’s scheduled start.
“He’s always been very honest with me and he told me he wasn’t overly concerned, he just felt a little fatigued,” Lovullo said. “We just decided to get (him) examined, and we did. He’s going to make the start, and it’s what I predicted and felt would happen.”
On offense, four players – outfielders Corbin Carroll and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and infielders Ketel Marte and Christian Walker – have batted a combined .205 at the top of the order through seven games. Surprisingly, however, Lovullo has not started Carroll in the leadoff spot like many expected, stating he wants to ease the 22-year-old Carroll into the majors.
Carroll leads the team in steals with three, all coming Sunday in Arizona’s 2-1 win against Los Angeles without a throw from Dodgers catcher Will Smith, possibly due in part to the league’s new rules that gives baserunners an advantage with larger bases and the revised pickoff restrictions that limit pitchers to two throws to first base per plate appearance.
“It’s helped us in making smart decisions there. It’s not serving as a detriment in terms of making outs in the base paths,” said Carroll, whose parents dropped him off for Thursday’s game. “We’ve got a lot of athletic dudes, making this lineup a lot of fun.”
Seven games into the season, players are starting to adjust to the new implemented pitch clock, where pitchers are given 15 seconds to throw a pitch, 20 with a runner on base, and batters have to be in the batter’s box at the 8-second mark.
With this rule in effect, the average duration of a game through the first week of the season is 2 hours and 38 minutes, down nearly 30 minutes from 2022, when the average was 3 hours and 4 minutes. Thursday’s home opener lasted 2 hours and 43 minutes.
“I think there’s good and bad, more good. The pace as a defensive player is great,” third baseman Evan Longoria said. “I do think there are some things that could help. Some of the guys who’ve been thrown out with nobody on base and the 15-second rule, sometimes seems a little quick. I don’t know if adjustments will be made but (the pitch clock) seems like a net positive for sure.”
Heading into the first homestand of the season, Diamondbacks players and coaches remained confident. There are 154 games left to play, and Lovullo and the Diamondbacks are excited for what the future has in store.
“As a manager, I manage the team that I have,” Lovullo said. “I want to find out where our strengths are, find out who we are, create an identity, and continue to let that grow every single day.”