PHOENIX – In the end, the management of the Arizona Diamondbacks had little option.
Sure, the team is traversing through the moist frustrating and dismal season in its history and the production of usually reliable players dropped dramatically. The fate of field manager Torey Lovullo, under normal circumstances, would likely be decided by the All-Star game. Mired in the depth of their most trying season to date, the easy method would have walked Lovullo to the nearest guillotine.
“Don’t think I thought of those things,” he said Thursday after Arizona snapped a four-game losing streak with a win over Atlanta. “Human nature takes over. Of course, I thought about it.”
“It” was the clear prospect of being fired in this, his contract season.
Complicating matters is the dynamics surrounding Mike Hazen, the team’s general manager. Hazen’s wife Nicole is battling brain cancer and that created an unusual factor. That would include the close relationship between Lovullo and Hazen and this stretches significantly. Their history includes tenure when both were with the Boston Red Sox. After Hazen was named Arizona’s general manager in October, 2016, he brought Boston bench coach and co-worker Lovullo to the desert to manager his new baseball club.
Together, this pair guided the Diamondbacks into the 2017 National League post-season and began to forge a union steep in friendship and respect. With Nicole Hazen’s diagnosis this summer, that bond was severely tested.
While the specter of Nicole Hazen hung over the club, there was likely no movement on Lovullo. By late September, and speculation circulating about Lovullo’s future, Hazen and the management team of president Derrick Hall and Ken Kendrick, general managing partner, decided Lovullo was worthy of his position. So, his contract was extended through the 2022 season and an option for 2023.
“I’m humbled and honored by the extension,” he said after Thursday’s game. “I appreciate the opportunity to continue to push the ball forward and feel confident about the future.”
Perhaps the saving grace for Lovullo is his ability to communicate and resonate with his players.
After the Diamondbacks were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 National League Division series, reliever Archie Bradley, now with Philadelphia, told reporters, “there is no other manager I would want to play for than Torey Lovullo.”
That sentiment was echoed through the Arizona clubhouse and the culture Lovullo brought from Boston. When he was hired by Hazen in October 2017, Lovullo said, at the press conference was acted as his introduction,” what matters to the players, matters to me.”
Aside from his baseball acumen, Lovullo exists as a strong communicator. Repeatedly, he tells reporters about one-on-one sessions he has with individual players and how interaction among players leads to greater confidence levels. Since taking over as Arizona manager to start the 2017 season, Lovullo says he changed.
“When I started, I tended to use the same line-up and more open communication,” he said. “Communication is very strong for me, but I’ve created somewhat of a barrier. I found there are tough decision to make, and that’s especially true with dealing with personnel issues. I see myself changing, a little more at a distance, but still communication is important.”
Lovullo’s ability to reach out to players is as comforting as this is necessary. Several managers are not strong communicators, but the culture Lovullo sets in the Arizona clubhouse is known and visible.
“(Lovullo) is open what he wants and what he needs,” said utility player Josh Rojas. “(Lovullo) is different than any other manager I’ve had. He was open from day one of spring training and gave us a very good comfort level. If this organization made one decision, I hoped that would bring him back.”
Now, Lovullo can rest somewhat easier in the up-coming off-season and begin to dig his baseball club from the depths of a forgotten season. Clearly, the Diamondbacks will have to improve, especially in pitching, but in the communication department, Lovullo remains a strong catalyst to what is and what could be a viable future.