Has Zac Gallen reached ‘elite’ status?

PHOENIX – Throughout the season, Arizona Diamondbacks’ righthander Zac Gallen continues to pile up accolades. Common to this reference and in his climb to the top of the National League leader board, adjectives like “superb,” “brilliant, and “splendid” are now customary.

As the 2022 season draws to a close, Gallen has put up prodigious numbers and continues to dazzle observers. Coming into his next start Sunday against the Rockies in Denver, the 27-year-old native of Somerdale N. J. has a scoreless streak of 41.1 innings. That’s one short of the franchise record set by Brandon Webb in 2007. More important, his accomplishment ranks among the best in National League annuals.

With the current 41.1 consecutive shutout innings, he represents only the fourth pitcher in the modern history of the game to pitch six or more shutout innings in six consecutive starts. Only Don Drysdale of the Dodgers (1968), Orel Hershiser of the Dodgers (1988), and Zack Greinke of the Dodgers in 2015 accomplished this feat.

To Gallen, the numbers are as unimpressive as they are superfluous.

“You guys like to publicize this, and I know about it,” Gallen said after his last start at home last Sunday against Milwaukee. “I just go out there and make pitches. These are games we need to win.”

These words simply represent a modest response in the middle of an impressive resume. So the question begs whether Gallen, with a fastball constantly in the mid-90s and at the knees and a change that keeps hitters guessing, has increased his stature in the game.

Yet, the hour may not quite be ready to anoint this distinction.

“I don’t want to go that far,” said field manager Torey Lovullo. “’Elite’ is a pretty strong word. At times, I have seen him that way, and has fantastic stuff. Plus, he’s still a young pitcher, still learning and still growing. That’s what makes him so special. You can ask him, and he’ll tell you. He’s never close to that (in the “elite” category).”

Through his evolution, Gallen has evolved as “a student of the game,” and his approach is both physical and intellectual. He has developed acute studying habits and in the time before a start, he can be seen sitting in front of his locker, iPad in hand and notes piled on the floor.

This development has certainly caught attention, and Carson Kelly, his primary catcher, notes their relationship goes back to the period when both were members of the St. Louis Cardinals organization.

Perhaps the one variable which best fits is “cerebral,” and the way Gallen approaches his craft.

“(Gallen) takes his preparation very seriously and dives into analytics,” Kelly said after catching Gallen last Sunday in Chase Field. “He is able to repeat out there and make adjustments on the fly. Plus, he just remembers things, and that’s only one side of the game. That’s an understanding of what to do on the mound. With that understanding, he’s able to go out and execute at a very high level.”

Honor for Rojas .. Infielder Josh Rojas was named the Diamondbacks’ nominee for the 2022 Roberto Clemente award. This honor is presented to a player which best represents the game through character, community involvement, and positive contributions on and off the field. Each team nominates a player and announcement of the recipient will be made during an annual dinner in November.

A critical home stand … The Diamondbacks return to Chase Field for their next seven games. These include three with the Dodgers and four with San Diego. Right-hander Merrill Kelly (12-5, 2.94 ERA) opens the series for Arizona on Monday night and draws lefty Tyler Anderson (14-3, 2.73) as his mound opponent. On Tuesday, the Dodgers turn to veteran lefty Clayton Kershaw (7-3, 2.62) and the Diamondbacks are uncertain. This was the rotation spot for lefty Tommy Henry, but Henry was sent to minors on Sept. 9 and righty Taylor Widener was recalled. Because Lovullo’s recent announcement he is going to a six-man rotation, Arizona could select Widener or another pitcher. For the series finale on Wednesday night, it’s righty Zack Davies for Arizona (2-4, 3.74) and righty Dustin May (1-2, 3.94) for the Dodgers.