Arizona Diamondbacks: Starting rotation comes into focus
By Mark Brown
Potential starting rotation for the Arizona Diamondbacks off to a good spring start.
For a team which had the highest team ERA of any Major League club last season, the pitching priority for the Arizona Diamondbacks seems obvious. Finishing with a combined 5.09 runs per nine innings, and just ahead of the Minnesota Twins’ 5.08, the need to solve pitching maladies is beyond apparent.
Beginning with starters, the rotation at the end of the season seemed a patch-quit of heightened expectations. This spring, Archie Bradley, one potential starter on the bubble, told Venom Strikes the expectation of last season was “outrageous.” That had to do with the celebrated signing of Zack Greinke, a very hyped trade to bring Shelby Miller to form a solid one-two punch with Greinke at the top of the rotation and an offense noted for generating runs.
That all came to a hard fall, and a porous pitching staff took the majority of the blame for this free-fall. Now, the starters appear out for redemption. That’s not only to address a sense of professional pride but to pick up the rest of the team.
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Early camp evidence point to a renewed spirit and emphasis on execution. When manager Torey Lovullo stressed the need to play fundamentally sound baseball in each game, that trickle-down approach hit the pitching staff. Now, this collective unit seems obsessed with fastball command and first strike command. When these two essential elements are combined, the rate of success seems much higher.
Left-hander Patrick Corbin is one who could be a poster child. As a starter to begin last season, Corbin fell from grace and eventually banished to the bullpen. Now, he appears on his way back to a spot in the rotation and is second outing of the spring shows building blocks are in place.
Against the San Diego Padres last Saturday, Corbin went three innings and came away with several positives. Speaking with Venom Strikes afterward, Corbin indicated his fastball command was strong, and a goal is to perfect a slider as his important “out pitch.”
"I threw my slider for strikes and I was pleased the way the ball came out of my hand. Worked on fast ball command, and overall, I pleased with the way things went."
If Corbin feels the progress, Lovullo echoes that sentiment. Speaking with Venom Strikes after Corbin’s second spring outing, Lovullo pointed out that Corbin is exactly where he needs to be at this point of spring training.
"“Patrick attacked the zone and that’s what we want to see from our guys. I thought he pitched very well and he’s right on schedule.”"
If Corbin seems to check several boxes, right-hander Taijuan Walker appears to settle in comfortably. When spring games began, Walker was penciled as the number two starter behind Greinke, but the strong spring showing thus far from Miller should be a factor in the rotation set-up. Still, Walker turned in his second, strong outing of the spring Sunday against the Chicago White Sox.
Facing the South Siders, Walker became the first Arizona pitcher to go three innings this spring. Using an economy of just 26 pitches, 19 for strikes, Walker was in total command. He allowed one single, walked none and struck out two hitters.
In the process, the Diamondbacks evened their spring record at 5-5 with a 4-1 victory over the Sox. The game drew a sell-out 12,794 and the third straight sell-out at Salt River.
Before Sunday’s game, the Diamondbacks made their first cuts of the spring. Sent to the minor-league complex were right-handed pitchers Joey Krehbiel and Miller Diaz along with lefties Yuhei Nakaushiro and Josh Miller.
Both Miller and Nakaushiro were candidates for a bullpen spot. At this point, the left-handed candidates appear Andrew Chafin and Jared Miller. Manager Torey Lovullo indicated he is not uncertain, at this point, whether he will carry 12 or 13 pitchers. If he decides to carry 12, that opens an extra bench position, and it’s unlikely Lovullo will have the luxury of carrying two, short-term, left-handed relievers. Then again, that thinking could change at any time through spring training and the championship season.
On Monday, the Diamondbacks travel to Surprise and take on the Kansas City Royals. Left-hander Robbie Ray gets his second start of the spring and draws right-hander Nathan Karns (6-2, 5.15 ERA in 15 starts for Seattle last season) as his mound opponent.
Next: Miller impressive in early starts
On Tuesday, the Diamondbacks return to Salt River and entertain the Oakland A’s (1:10 p.m.).