For Torey Lovullo, decision time is looming for fifth starter

SCOTTSDALE – Like sands through an hourglass, time may be slipping. For those at center stage, the championship season begins in less than four weeks, and the moment appears to be of the essence. This is particularly certain of pitchers. Contending for a job at the major league level, those on the bubble have limited time to create separation.

That’s because the medical staff is careful to guard against unrealistic physical demands this early in spring and the number of contenders tends to overwhelm decision-makers.

In the case of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the quest for a fifth starter in the rotation is as competitive as it is uncertain. Several in the mix face that dilemma of a limited pitch count and evaporating time to showcase skills.

Currently, right-hander Ryne Nelson is in the mix for the last spot in the rotation and the competition is as fierce as it is intense. After the opening week of spring games, Nelson appears to have taken a step back as has lefty Tommy Henry. Leapfrogging ahead is a pair of right-handers Dry Jamison and Brandon Pfaadt.

Still, these are moments of caution and restraint. Those caught in this competitive vice face a sense of urgency to produce at a high level and decision-makers may experience periods of public ambiguity. Diving through advance stages of analytics, Arizona manager Torey Lovullo and others are keenly aware of the potential and production of such candidates. At the same time, they continue to hold cards close to the vest.

“I want everyone competing to be grounded and they will get their outings,” Lovullo said. “I can’t give you an update to where this stands. Is a race to the finish line? I don’t even know that answer. At some point, we’ll have to make a decision and we’ll make the best decision to help us win games.”

With the bulk of spring training competition ahead, Nelson is the first to recognize “time” is a critical factor. In his initial two starts this spring, the native of Henderson, Nev. has not been terribly impressive.

In the initial start Feb. 25 against Colorado, Nelson allowed four runs, all earned, in the first inning and against the Dodgers on March 2, he was tagged for three runs, all earned, in 1.3 innings.

“The stats don’t look great, and I think they don’t show how good I feel,” Nelson said after his March 2 outing against the Dodgers. “I feel the ball is coming out good and the shape of my pitches is really good. Try not to read into the numbers too much and trying to gain that upper trajectory and feel better each time I go out there.”

For pitchers in the bubble, the slightest slip in production could result in a clear setback. The intelligent approach, said Henry (who allowed five runs, four earned in 1.1 innings in Feb. 26 in his first start of the spring), is simply go out the mound with a blindfold squarely attached.

“I have no control over what the coaches and even my success on the field,” Henry said after that initial start of the spring in Feb.26. “So, this is wasted energy for me to try to think or even wonder to do things which impress people. If I spend all of my energy on being myself and take it day-by-day, and if I live within that mindset, I’ll like where I am at the end.”

In the trainer’s room .. shortstop Nick Ahmed continues to recover from inflammation of the left wrist. Lovullo said he could get into a spring game sometime next week. …

Coming up … Madison Bumgarner is scheduled to make his initial start of the spring in Sunday in Goodyear against the Guardians. … Zac Gallen, who has been stretched out on the back fields at Salt River, will make his initial start of the spring next week, according to Lovullo. When Gallen gets the ball, he will likely go three to four innings and on pace to potentially open the season at Dodger Stadium on March 30.

WBC update … Players heading to the World Baseball Classic depart on March 6 or March 7, according to Lovullo. Those scheduled to leave on March 6 include Emmanuel Rivera (Team Puerto Rico), Ketel Marte (Team Dominican Republic), and Alek Thomas (Team Mexico). Pitcher Merrill Kelly is expected to join Team USA on March 6 or March 7. Joining Team Italy are Arizona players on the 40-man roster, outfielder Dominic Fletcher, catcher Dominic Miroglio and pitcher Michael Stumpo. Third base coach Tony Perezchica will join the staff of Team Mexico on March 7.

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