PHOENIX – Once upon a time, stellar pitching match-ups represented the essence of baseball. In recent decades, a cosmic shift resulted in a changed emphasis on more runs and greater production.
For a brief moment Saturday in Chase Field, the clock was turned back and two pitchers, for each franchise invested money and future, collided. With the San Diego Padres clinging to a playoff position, right-hander Joe Musgrove, fresh with a seven-year, $100 million contract tucked firmly in this back pocket, engaged righty Zac Gallen, with whom the Arizona Diamondbacks have all but officially anointed the titular head of their pitching staff.
Then again, stellar match-ups do not always entertain on the playing field as with expectations. From the start, Gallen suffered from an inability to constantly throw strikes and fell behind hitters most of the game. In allowing two runs in 5.1 innings of work, Gallen suffered his first defeat since June 10 in Philadelphia and dropped a 2-0 decision to Musgrove and the Padres before 29,796 in Chase Field.
Despite a pitch count of 105 for his effort and uncharacteristic, Gallen said afterward he did not have a good feel for his pitches and, as a result, had difficulty commanding the strike zone.
“More of grinder, really,” he said. “Just did not have a feel for the curve ball. They were taking many pitches and just did not have the greatest command. My timing was not right and didn’t feel super comfortable out there. Just trying to make adjustments on the fly and had trouble getting into a rhythm.”
In three of the opening four innings, Gallen reached a pitch count of 20 or more pitches, including 23 in the fourth. That’s where the Padres broke out to a lead they never relinquished.
In concert with Gallen’s difficulty Saturday, a current trend in the game affected the first San Diego run and the eventual outcome. With changes in the shift coming next season, that does not preclude Arizona field manager Torey Lovullo from its use.
In the San Diego fourth, Jake Cronenworth led off with a double. At that point, Lovullo moved three infielders to the right side against Josh Bell, hitting from the left side. Subsequently, Bell grounded in the hole between short and third, and shortstop Geraldo Perdomo, the lone infielder on the left side, played the ball perfectly. Immediately, Cronenworth saw no fielder covering third and made it to the bag easily. One out later, Ha-Seong Kim lifted a sacrifice fly to center for the initial run for the game.
“We try to play those gaps, especially with a runner on second base,” Lovullo said. “(Bell) hit the ball right where the tendency showed. (Perdomo) made a great-hands play and I thought it was a really good base-running play by Cronenworth. These are the little things that good teams and good base runners do. He was situationally aware of where that lone dog was standing, and he took advantage of that. But, I want to play those gaps.”
The immediate batter after the sacrifice fly, catcher Luis Campusano drilled a homer into the left field bleachers and that produced the margin of victory.
For his part, Musgrove limited the opposition to no runs for the fifth time this season. In his six innings, the native of El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego, allowed three base runners that includes a two-out first inning double by Jake McCarthy, a one-out infield single by Corbin Carrell in the fourth, and a one-out double by Daulton Varsho, down the right field line, with one out in the sixth. For the game, three San Diego pitchers limited Arizona to just four hits and no walks.
The conclusion … the series ends with a Sunday matinee. Veteran Yu Darvish (14-7, 3.16 ERA) and a Cy Young Award candidate, takes the mound for the Padres and Ryne Nelson (1-0, 0.00) for Arizona. In his first two major league starts to date, Nelson has allowed no runs in 13 innings.