For now, Ryne Nelson is Arizona’s fifth starter

PHOENIX – The decision came down in the usual manner. Since arriving in the desert to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks, Torey Lovullo has traditionally delayed until the final moment to announce critical personnel decisions.

That held true to form. Lovullo waited until the final hours of spring training to reveal perhaps the most persistent question of the spring. That would be the fifth starter in his rotation.

Coming into camp this spring, the Arizona rotation appeared set with four of the five as known qualities The fifth was an open question and candidates essentially emerged at the end of the last season. That’s when lefty Tommy Henry and righties Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson each competed with a strong September. This spring, righty Brandon Pfaadt sprung into the limelight and though he was sent to AAA Reno in the last days of camp, Pfaadt remains on Lovulllo’s radar screen.

Nelson gets the ball from Lovullo his initial start of the season Monday night against the Padres at Petco Park and says he is ready.

“Felt like I put everything together and everything I have been working in this spring,” Nelson said on March 28 after his final spring start. “Executed all my pitches and got that feel of every pitch where I wanted to put it. Plus, I put guys away with different stuff and overall, felt really good.”

Nelson is coming off a September in which he went 1-1 and 1.47 ERA. That represented the trifecta of late-season callups. With the advent of spring training, Nelson was in a three-way fight, which turned into a four-way with Henry, Jameson, and Pfaadt. In the end, the native of Eugene, Ore. won out and recognizes the demands to remain productive.

“There were no anxious moments in spring training,” Nelson said on reference to gain the fifth starter slot. “I said like a million times, I just focus on myself, try to keep getting better, and what I have to do. I don’t worry about what else is going on and what people are saying. Just prepare myself and make myself the best version of myself as I can.”

To address the plethora of pitching at the major league and within the organization, Lovullo told reporters this spring that “the opener” is not under consideration. That would take a page from the strategy book of Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, who introduced the reality of starting a long reliever or pure reliever to open a game. The mindset includes that pitcher go just a few innings and turn the game over the bullpen. The purpose was execution in key situations, and the overall platform turned out well for Cash.

With several strong arms now at Lovullo’s disposal, and should Nelson, and arm fatigue reported to Madison Bumgarner falter, the notion of the Diamondbacks embracing “the opener” could be on the table.

“We have not discussed that, but I would be open to that,” Lovullo said. “I would go there if that would create an advantage for us to win a game. I’m always open to that.”

Given the rotation established, Lovullo added there is little need nor desire to go beyond that prescribed five. At this point, Lovullo is going with Zac Gallen, Zack Davies, Kelly, Bumgarner and Nelson.

That could change within the coming days.

Bumgarner, after his start April 1 in Dodger Stadium, told Lovullo he suffered from arm fatigue and was sent back to Phoenix for tests and examination. Coming into the Padres series this Monday and Tuesday in Petco Park, Lovullo announced no change to the rotation. Given Bumgarner’s physical condition, that could change within the coming days.

“We really haven’t discussed that,” Lovullo said in reference to “the opener.” “We love our starters and love the five we have. We know we have six, seven, eight, nine sitting somewhere in this organization. Whether that’s Drey and someone sitting in (AAA) Reno, we have not discussed (the opener).”

There may be a glimpse into a possible “opener,” and that took place in Dodger Stadium last Friday night. Merrill Kelly struggled through the early innings and was pulled by Lovullo after 3.2 innings. In that period, Kelly, who started two games for Team USA in the recent World Baseball Classic, threw 74 pitches, and Lovullo immediately went to Jameson.

In four innings, Jameson allowed one run and threw an economy of 66 pitches. In the process, he gained a 2-1 over the Dodgers and gave a hint that Lovullo could consider the “opener” option within the context of his overall strategic planning.

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