Down the stretch, can two starters carry the Arizona Diamondbacks?

PHOENIX – Prior to Thursday night’s game with Cincinnati in Chase Field, Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo made a bold prediction. Usually reserved and to a point taciturn, Lovullo was emphatic with a prediction on the National League wild-card race.

Currently locked with the Phillies, Cubs, Reds, Giants, and Marlins for a spot in post-season play, the Diamondbacks had won eight of the previous 10 games and catapulted into an important conversation.  That’s before engaging Cincinnati in a critical four-game series in the desert.

With September fast approaching and given the acute competitive level, Lovullo confidently said, “this season will come down to one game. Coming down to one game, 100 percent. Book it.”  

The critical part of this statement is whether the Diamondbacks will be part of this conversation. That leads to perhaps the most important question facing this franchise.

Through the final weeks, can the pair of Zac Gallen, who started the All-Star game and a strong Cy Young candidate and Merrill Kelly who started critical games for Team USA during the World Baseball Classic in March, be enough to keep the Diamondbacks in the race?

With a politically correct answer, Lovullo told reporters there is enough in the tank to remain in the hunt.

After Gallen and Kelly, the crop of starters is thin. At this point, Lovullo is counting on Slade Cecconi and Brandon Pfaadt, a pair of two rookies, and veteran Zack Davies, who is coming off the injured list (lower back inflammation) and sports a 1-5 and a 7.38 ERA for 12 starts.

“We do have the two we’re talking about (in Gallen and Kelly) and we have others, and then Davies will join us here this weekend,” Lovullo said. “With (Cecconi and Pfaadt), we’re asking a lot of them. Pfaadt has been throwing the ball really well and has been giving us six, seven strong innings. We’re in a good spot. We feel good that some of our youthfulness is contributing. Look, one and two are really, really good but I don’t mind three and four and Zack will join us.”

At the same time, Lovullo said he is leaving options open. That means employing ”an opener” has been done in the past. During recent weeks, Lovullo used relievers Scott McGough and Kyle Nelson to start games. That, he promised before Thursday’s game, will continue.

“We will be as creative as possible,” Lovullo pointed out. “We will continue with an opener and we need to be that way. We absolutely have to be that way. We’ll give the ball to Zac Gallen 30-plus times this season and I would love to give the ball to four Zac Gallens. But, I have to be creative. We have to find ways and we’ll be as creative as possible.”

On the diamond … In a game the Diamondbacks would have likely lost a few weeks ago, the club pulled out a 3-2, come-from-behind victory over Cincinnati before 18,827 in Chase Field on Thursday night.

After surrendering a 1-0 lead in the eighth, Corbin Carroll slammed a one-out, two-run homer against lefty Alexy Young and finalized the win in a critically important series. Closer Paul Seward survived a 10-pitch at-bat to Elly de la Cruz leading off the ninth and recorded his seventh save for Arizona.

Starter Merrill Kelly turned in his best effort of the season but left at the start of the eighth inning because of cramps in his right hamstring. Cramps have plagued the right-hander throughout his career and Kelly told reporters after the game he plans to counsel with doctors and nutritionists to solve the issue.

In the meantime, Kelly limited Cincinnati to one base runner over seven strong innings. That was a double to Noelvi Maret leading off the Reds’ third inning. In limiting Cincinnati to that one base runner, Kelly tied a career-best with 12 strikeouts.

“Location wise, that’s probably one of the better games that I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Kelly said. “If I’m locating and throwing all of the pitches, that’s going to a tough-go for the team whoever I’m facing. Just trying to keep hitters off their timing and location is a big way to do that.”

The critical week ahead  … The series with the Reds continues with three more in the desert. On Friday night, it’s righty Brandon Pfaadt (0-6, 6.13) taking on right-hander Brett Kennedy (1-0,3.00). On Saturday, which is Corbin Carroll bobblehead night, look for righty Zack Davies (1-5, 7.738) to take on righty Hunter Greene (2-5, 4.72). In the Sunday afternoon finale, it’s righty Slade Cecconi (0-0, 2.93) facing righty Graham Ashcroft (7-8, 4.84).

Now, a critical week … After the Reds series, the Diamondbacks head to Dodger Stadium for three, and Zac Gallen is scheduled to open that series. Then, home for three to face the AL East division-leading Baltimore Orioles. “The importance is amplified as we get closer to the end of the schedule,” said Lovullo before Thursday’s game. “We need to focus on today and that’s what our guys are doing. Today’s game is the most important.”

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