Arizona pitchers adjust to new DH

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The change was coming, but when finalized, the consequence resulted in a limited shock. The universal designated hitter, now reality at all levels of the game, has been discussed in recent years, but the realization that all major league teams are now in concert represented a relief. That’s especially certain among National League pitchers.

Since the DH was established in 1973, nearly all leagues amateur and professional, save the Major Leagues, adopted its use.

Until now.

As a result of the recent negotiations which ended the lockout last week, one platform established was the universal designated hitter. Now, all major league teams will play under this condition, and will likely bring changes. Not terribly pronounced, say those in involved, but enough to place greater emphasis on pitching and not have pitchers engaged in multiple tasks.

“First, you’ll probably see a spike in innings pitched,” said Arizona righthander Merrill Kelly before Thursday’s spring opener against Colorado. “For me, I’ll miss hitting in (batting practice) but hitting in a game is hard. I like the idea of just getting back to focus on pitching.”

Given changes in the game over the past two decades, a prescribed pitch count and longevity of a starter pitcher are now significant issues. In the previous National League encounters, Kelly points out, “you won’t run into those situations like second and third in the fourth inning, one-run game, your spot comes up and you’re out of the game. That’s because we need a bat to push across some runs.”

Now, a National League pitcher can afford greater attention to his principal craft and leave the business of productive bats to the field manager. Plus, there appears to be a great sense of relief among pitches that their roles, going forward, are now truly defined.

“I think this will prevent silly injuries,” said right-hander Zac Gallen. “Game plan will be a little different out there. For me, the biggest thing is able to throw to the pitch count and not getting pulled for a pinch hitter, like in the fifth inning.”

As the game evolved over the past few decades, a change toward a universal DH appeared inevitable. Because the American League employed the DH for nearly 50 years, pitchers, it appears, believe that stress on multi-tasks, like hitting, base running, and having their bodies in an overall baseball mode, contributed to the decision to eliminate the DH.

“The game was trending that way,” Gallen added. “I’ll go back to the 2020 season, and we saw what’s it’s like not to hit. The guys didn’t mind it.”

Perhaps one pitcher who can be directly affected is lefty Madison Bumgardner, a career .172 hitter over 13 major league seasons, Bumgarner, at 32-years-old, had his best season with the stick for the Giants in 2014. In that season, he hit .258 (17-66) and a career-high 15 RBIs. In meeting with the media prior to Thursday’s Cactus League opener, field manager Torey Lovullo said, firmly, Bumgarner would not hit.

CAMP NOTES … The Diamondbacks dropped their spring opener, 5-3 to the Colorado Rockies before 5,634 at Salt River. Starter Tommy Henry, a lefthander who went 4-6, 5.21 ERA in 23 starts with AA Amarillo, started. He left after three innings and trailed 1-0. In throwing 29 pitches, 17 for strikes, the University of Michigan standout appeared most effective with off-speed deliveries.

“I want to keep hitters off balance and throw everything in the mix,” he said. “I thought I got it all out there. My goal, really, is to get ahead of hitters and gain command of the strike zone.”

All Arizona runs came through the home run. Catcher Juan Graterol slammed a two-run shot in the seventh and right-fielder Nick Heath drilled a solo homer to right in the eighth.

ELSEWHERE … the eye injury sustained Ketel Marte is healing. That’s the word coming from Lovullo, but the team’s medical staff kept Marte out of the bright Arizona sun. On Thursday, he was confined to the batting cage and his condition is constantly monitored, Lovullo told reporters … With the third base job relatively open, the Diamondbacks are giving serious consideration to veteran Matt Davidson, whom Arizona drafted on the first round in 2009 (35th overall). He is in the mix with Josh Rojas and Drew Ellis for attention … Though his lineup was filed with minor leaguers on Thursday and will do so for Friday’s game with the Rockies, Lovullo said there remains a strong possibility that several major league players will play Saturday against the Angels in Tempe. … For the spring schedule, the Diamondbacks will wear a patch honoring veteran Arizona executive Roland Hemond, who passed away last December. The initials RH are white on a black field and stitched to the right sleeve of the uniform. … For game two of their spring slate Friday against Colorado at Salt River, Lovullo has penciled in a trio of righties Jesus Liranzo, Sean Poppen and Keynan Middleton to start the game.

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