When the Arizona Diamondbacks called up RHP Brandon Pfaadt on May 3rd, 2023, no one had any idea what he would be doing for this team in the postseason. Especially not following his first start, where he was lit up for seven earned runs, including four home runs against the Texas Rangers. Although the D-backs ended up winning a 12-7 slugfest, Pfaadt's major league journey continued to look rough.
In his first five MLB starts, Pfaadt allowed five or more runs three times, giving up eight home runs in just 23.2 innings. His ERA was north of eight, and he was sent back down to AAA Reno. Despite this ugly first look, he remained the top pitching prospect in the D-backs' farm system.
Pfaadt was called up again in late June, where he made just one start--a six run affair in which he failed to complete the third inning--before being sent down once more. Nearly a month later, he was called up for the third time in three months. He would spend the rest of the 2023 season in the majors.
Around his third stint is when improvement started to become noticeable. Pfaadt pitched a beauty for five innings in Cincinnati, before the long ball became a problem once again. In the sixth inning, the third time through the Reds' lineup, Pfaadt allowed back-to-back-to-back home runs, turning a 2-0 lead into a 3-2 deficit. Although the improvement was obvious, batters were still hitting well north of .300 against him, and home runs continued to plague his starts.
However, this start still appeared to be a turning point for the 25-year old rookie. His strikeout numbers began to spike, and although he continued to allow plenty of hits, more and more the right-hander found himself staying calm in jams, working his way out of base traffic and trusting his stuff. His best start to that point came against San Diego, where he pitched seven shutout innings, the deepest start of his career.
There would be some bumpy starts going forward, and some, myself included, was concerned that the improvement was not drastic enough to be a competitive starting pitcher. At least, not yet. However, Torey Lovullo seemed to know more than the rest of us, believing that Pfaadt would be pitching "meaningful games" sooner than later.
That sentiment was truer than you could imagine. Following a stressful few games against the Astros to end the regular season, in which both Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly had to pitch behind dormant offenses, there was no real choice other than to give the rookie right-hander the ball.
Brandon Pfaadt was announced as the D-backs game one starter, pitching in the Arizona's most meaningful game since 2017. Many who were unfamiliar with the D-backs and their season were surprised, given Pfaadt's less than stellar numbers. Barstool even went as far as to christen Pfaadt "the worst game one starter in history."
Granted, Pfaadt's first start against Milwaukee didn't get off to the hottest start. The rookie did not even reach the fourth inning, allowing seven hits and three runs, including a two-run homer by Brewers OF Tyrone Taylor. Pfaadt exited with a 3-0 deficit, but thanks to a spectacular bullpen performance and a vintage Answerbacks rally, the D-backs were able to take the win anyway.
After the D-backs swept the Wild Card, and jumped ahead to a 2-0 series lead on the Dodgers, Pfaadt was up to pitch again in game three of the NLDS. This time, in the D-backs' first home playoff game of the season.
This version of Pfaadt looked different. He pitched four and a third scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and no walks. He only struck out two Dodgers, and was pulled before facing the order a third time, but his strong start gave the D-backs the room they needed to win the game 4-2, behind a quartet of solo home runs off RHP Lance Lynn.
Things only improved from there. After dropping the first two games of the NLCS in Philadelphia, behind the team's two best starters in Gallen and Kelly, it was up to Pfaadt to stop the bleeding at home. He delivered, and then some, going 5.2 scoreless innings, allowing only two baserunners and striking out a career high nine Phillies.
When Lovullo came out to pull Pfaadt, home fans booed the manager for taking him out, considering how well he had been pitching. Torey noted that he even asked his coaches if he was "an idiot" for taking out Pfaadt that early.
"I'm sure I was the most unpopular guy in the city of Phoenix," the manager joked postgame. But once again, the game plan came to fruition, and the bullpen held the Phillies to just one run, allowing for a Ketel Marte walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth inning.
A hard back-and-forth NLCS saw Pfaadt pitching in--for the third time this year--the biggest game of his career. Knotted at 3-3, back at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pfaadt had two choices: deliver, or go home.
While the rookie did allow a solo home run to Alec Bohm, he was once again very solid, albeit in another short start. In four innings, he allowed just two runs, and struck out seven Phillies, en route to a 4-2 win, clinching Arizona's first World Series berth since 2001.
Not only has Pfaadt been pitching in meaningful games, he's been consistently performing well in some of the most meaningful games in Diamondbacks history. The key appears to be, for now, not letting him go too deep in games, but his pitches and his command continue to get better with each start, and his poise in stressful game environments has ultimately been the difference in the D-backs postseason.
Big Game Brandon has risen to the occasion. If this is a taste of what's to come from the rookie in year two, the D-backs could have a great addition to their rotation.