Could Zac Gallen move into elite status?

PHOENIX – About one month ago, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Zac Gallen was wandering about the baseball landscape in nowhere land. Counted upon as a significant member of the starting rotation, Gallen had a compromised spring training and began the season on the IR with bursitis in his right shoulder.

That happened to be the pitching shoulder and his immediate future appeared bleak, at best.

Alas, the injury recovered in relatively short order and Gallen triumphally returned to the mound. Instead of laboring and compromising on his range of motion and mechanics, the 26-year-old out of Somerdale, N J. surprised the most dubious observer. All Gallen did was toss shutout inning after shutout inning. Now, he sports a strong command and presence both on the mound and in the clubhouse.

The result is numbers worthy of any pitcher in the game. One reason for his success is reliance on his signature pitch.

“I’m using my fastball a lot more,” Gallen said after his last start in Chase Field against the Dodgers on April 27. “I’m having confidence in that and trying to use the pitch more to get ahead in the count.”.

Here in the opening weeks of the season, Gallen’s numbers reflect his use of the fast ball. For his four starts to open the season, Gallen has pitched 21.1 innings and in those frames, he’s recorded 19 strikeouts. That goes along with a traditional ratio for success, and that is a pitcher’s ability to allow less hits than innings pitched. In this category, the right-hander surrendered 11 and just three runs in those 21.1 innings of work.

The combined numbers with Madison Bumgardner (1.17 ERA) and Merrill Kelly (1.27 ERA) represent the early surprise of the season. If the Diamondbacks’ slumbering bats would score at a pace to keep up with the starting pitching, this team could have a better record and position than in the National League West basement. Among starters, the Diamondbacks have the third-lowest ERA in the majors with a combined 2.61. Only the Dodgers (2.01) and the Twins (2.58) have lower ERAs among their starters.

Still, Gallen draws attention.

“I see an aggressive fastball from (Gallen),” said manager Torey Lovullo. “He’s on the attack and in the zone with his fastball. He is throwing exactly where he wants to throw. He has a cutter-slider combination and he’s changing speeds on that. Plus, he’s mixing the curveball and change-up and when those pitches are landing, he’s pretty good. He has a pretty good fastball but he’s added another gear by landing in the top of the strike zone.”

For the starters, their combined 2.61 ERA is a clear departure from last season. Through their first 24 games in 2021, the Diamondbacks starters had a 4.27 ERA. Now Gallen, Bumgarner, and Kelly all display an ERA among the top 10 National League starters.

Home at last … following the current road trip, the Diamondbacks return to Chase Field for a nine-game homestand. This includes three each with the Rockies, Marlins, and Cubs. Here are the matchups for the first series of the homestand against Colorado. On Friday night, look for Merrill Kelley (2-1, 1.27) to open the series for Arizona and oppose righty Chad Kuhl (3-0, 1.90). On Saturday, it’s Zack Davies (1-1, 4.24) taking on lefty Kyle Freeland (1-3,4.85) and for the Sunday afternoon finale, Zac Gallen (1-0, 1,27) opposes righty German Marquez (0-1, 5.57).

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