The starting pitching of the Arizona Diamondbacks has set the tone for early success.
Pundits like to say that offense gets headline but defense wins championships. In the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks, add pitching.
Through the first month of the season, production from the hill turned dramatically. From a team with the highest ERA in the National League last season, the Diamondbacks have righted their ship. Now, starters combined own the lowest ERA of starters in the National League and overall, the staff ERA is lower by more than one run per game over last season.
Along the way in this marathon baseball season, pitchers will hit the occasional roadblock. Against the Washington Nationals this past Tuesday night, Taijuan Walker was on his way to complete five innings and earn a victory. Yet, his high pitch count prevented Walker for adding a win in the plus column and the bullpen bailed out the right-hander.
What seem striking is the ERA of starters.
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Coming into play Friday night against the Colorado Rockies, Arizona starters have a combined 3.47 ERA and that’s ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose starters sport a 3.69 ERA.
In regard to starters, numbers are dramatically down. For lefty Patrick Corbin, who was banished from the starting rotation by then-manager Chip Hale early last August, the bounce-back is telling. Corbin finished last season with a mark of 5-13 and 5.15 ERA for 24 starts. In 2017, the native of Clay, N. Y. is 2-3 but his ERA is 2.29. Zack Grienke, coming off a marginal season a year ago (13-7, 4.37 ERA), is 2-2 on the brink of his Friday start against the Rox and a 3.19 ERA, down over one run from last season. Robbie Ray is even at 2-2 and a 3.47 ERA is down from his 4.90 of a year ago.
Even right-hander Shelby Miller, now lost for the season with Tommy John surgery, picked himself off the mat and went 2-2 in four April starts and a 4.09 ERA. Last season, Miller spent part of his summer languishing in the minors and finished with a 3-12 record and blistering 6.15 ERA.
For the Diamondbacks to gain that edge among the stiff National League West competition, the starting pitching must be the benchmark. That was the observation of manager Torey Lovullo, who told Venom Strikes during the Diamondbacks’ recent home stand that pitching establishes an important foundation.
"The starting pitching came out and kick-started this team. They set the tone, and that allows us to play downhill baseball."
Not to be overlooked in this effort is work of the bullpen. Archie Bradley, whom the Diamondbacks still hold a vision of a starter, has been sparkling and his 1.13 ERA, coming into the Rockies series, guides the light. Add a 0.00 ERA from reliever T. J. McFarland and 1.69 from J. J Hoover in 13 appearances, and the bullpen likes to douse any fire. The sore spot has been closer Fernando Rodney, who has seven saves thus far, but sports an embarrassing 11.45 ERA 12 appearances.
Back to the minors
Following his start in Washington on Thursday, right-hander Branden Shipley was optioned back to Triple-A Reno.
"Arizona Diamondbacks: First place in the N.L. West on the line in Denver"
To fill this vacant spot on the 25-man roster, the Diamondbacks called up outfielder Gregor Blanco from Reno. Appearing in six games between Advanced-A Visalia and Reno, Blanco hit .391 (9-for-23). In parts of eight major league seasons, Blanco has a .258 career batting average and his fielding percentage of .993 is fourth best among NL outfielders since the 2012 season.