SURPRISE, Ariz. – Just a few weeks ago, the starting rotation of the Arizona Diamondbacks appeared set. Manager Torey Lovullo was certain who would take the ball and who might be banished to the bullpen.
Given a needed transfusion from the disappointment of last season, this is likely a significant achievement for Lovullo and Brent Strom, the new pitching coach. Now, the five designated to open the season, but a short time ago, appears in a state of flux.
With lingering bursitis plaguing the right shoulder of Zac Gallen and the recent free agent signing of right-hander Zack Davies on March 24 (one year, a reported $1.75 million), an opening or two within Lovullo’s central criteria could open.
Should Gallen begin the season on the Injured Reserve, his spot would be filled by a number of candidates. Among those considered could be Taylor Widener, Caleb Smith, Corbin Martin, Dan Straily, Humberto Castellanos, or Tyler Gilbert. While one has not caused separation from the pack, the prospect remains that, if not gaining a spot now among the starters, any potential candidate could land in the rotation during the season.
“I wish I knew where I stood,” Gilbert said after this outing Sunday against the Texas Rangers. “I can only control what I can control and that’s to go out, pitch, and do the best I can. I don’t know where I’ll slide in or what will happen.”
Gilbert and Smith would be attractive candidates and that’s because of the sole fact both are left-handers. Last season, Gilbert claimed baseball immortality when he tossed a no-hitter in this first major league start. Shutting down San Diego with no hits on Aug. 14, Gilbert became the fourth pitcher to toss a no-hitter in their first big-league start.
Now, the 28-yer-old native of Santa Cruz, Calif. could find himself vacillating between a potential spot in the rotation or in the bullpen.
“We had a meeting last week and we only talked about pitch execution, commanding pitches, and using both sides of the plate,” he said. “There’s no guarantee on me having a spot or even an opening roster spot. My goal is to have a spot somewhere and whether it’s in the bullpen or as a starter. I just want to be on the team.”
Through his initial two starts of the spring, Gilbert has not embarrassed. Against the Rangers, he was pulled when he reached a 50-pitch pitch count. For 2.2 innings, Gilbert allowed three hits and one run, earned. The earned run was questionable because a hard-hit ball to Drew Ellis at third slammed off his glove, ruled a single, and assisted the run to score. Still, Gilbert has posted a 1.69 ERA and for his two outings and on Sunday against the Rangers, Gilbert threw 27 for strikes during his 50-pitch outing.
Let’s play two … on Sunday, the Diamondbacks split their squad. One stayed at Salt River and defeated the Colorado Rockies, 5-2. First baseman Christian Walker powered the offense with a 2-for-3 afternoon, and a two-run homer in the sixth. Madison Bumgarner reached his 60-pitch count (finished with 62 pitchers) and lifted in the third inning. For two starts this spring, Bumgarner has a 7.50 ERA … the other half of the Arizona squad lost to the Rangers, 13-0 at Surprise Stadium. The Diamondbacks managed only four hits and a combination of three Texas pitchers retired the first 15 Arizona hitters to start the game. The first Diamondbacks hit came from outfielder Branden Bishop, who singled to right against reliever Brock Burke leading off the sixth inning … on Monday, the Diamondbacks take on their NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers at Salt River. Righthander Corbin Martin is scheduled to get the start and veteran lefty Clayton Kershaw is expected to start for the Dodgers.