Lovullo continues to worry about the bullpen and defense

SURPRISE, Ariz. – For a team that requires improvements in several areas, perhaps Arizona Diamondbacks’ manager Torey Lovullo should stop the count at two. That number represents the core of any success and this pair of factors, if corrected, could make Lovullo’s life, and the lives of his players, much easier.

Defense and the bullpen, Lovullo cited before Sunday’s game with the Kanas City Royals in Surprise Stadium, are significant concerns. These pillars of a club’s fortunes clearly plagued the Diamondbacks in 2021 and represented key barometers for the team’s less-than-glorious 52-111 season. That tied the Baltimore Orioles for the worst record in Major League Baseball and set in motion the kind of overhaul destined to address the club’s 2021 failures.

Since arriving in the desert at the start of the 2017 season, Lovullo constantly tells listeners pitching and defense contribute heavily to a team’s success. Both areas let Lovullo down miserably a year ago and likely prompted Arizona decision-makers to reinvent the wheel.

“We addressed a few of these by shoring up our bullpen,” Lovullo said. “That was a strong priority for us. We were in a position to win many games late last year, but we were not able to slam the door shut. You can see with some of the additions that this was a top priority.”

On the mound, the Diamondbacks’ staff simply put up poor numbers. The club’s ERA was 5.11 and only the Orioles with an ERA of 5.84 was higher. Plus, defense was a huge concern. The club’s fielding percentage was near the bottom in the majors and tied with the New York Mets and New Yankees at the bottom (each, .983). Only the Boston Red Sox (.981) and the Minnesota Twins (.982) were lower.

“At the same time, I feel very strongly that defense goes hand-in-hand with pitching, so I felt our defense, particularly our infield defense, was far below our standards,” Lovullo said. “We are going back to the basics, like the basic fundamentals of picking up a baseball, and progress through that day-by-day.”

During the course of a 162-game championship season, possible post-season play, and more than 30 spring training games, the experience of a single contest tends to be blurred. Yet, if there was one game with could serve as a template for the woes of pitching and defense, the Diamondbacks’ 11-10 loss to the Royals Sunday in Surprise could address Lovullo’s legitimate concerns.

In the larger scheme, and despite this as a meaningless, pre-season contest buried in mid-March, the game Sunday clearly addressed Lovullo’s apprehensions.

Blowing leads of 5-0 and 10-5, circumstances in this game showcased the fundamental approach now taken. A pair of errors from C. J. Chatham and bullpen meltdowns from Caleb Smith (five hits, four runs two HRs in 2 innings) and Keven Ginkel (hits, two runs in one inning) highlighted Lovullo’s discourse. In the end, a walk-off double from the Royals’ Edward Olivares merely accentuated a growing concern.

Sure, Chatham’s suspect defense is long forgotten, and he will likely start the season at AA Amarillo. Yet, Smith and Ginkel, both holdovers from last year, now attempt to make the bullpen better. The acquisitions of Ian Kennedy as set-up reliever and Mark Melancon as the closer, are two steps in the right direction, but overall execution remains a fundamental concern.

“I want to play crisp, clean baseball,” Lovullo said. “That doesn’t matter who’s out there. My expectations are that we go out and execute at a very high level. Every player is expected to do that. We have situations where we allow teams to come back in ball games. It’s about a pitcher putting the ball over the plate when they are supposed to and players making plays. That’s really important”

Elsewhere … The loss to Kansas City kept the Diamondbacks winless in their opening four games. They try and get into the win column Monday afternoon at home against Seattle. Righthander Humberto Castellanos gets his first start of the spring. Lefty Madison Bumgarner is slated to get his opening assignment of the spring on Tuesday at home against the Texas Rangers.

… former Diamondback Zack Greinke signed a one-year deal to return to Kansas City. Greinke, who posted a 55-29 mark for 114 starts and 3.40 ERA with Arizona, spent seven years with the Royals (60-67. 3.82 ERA in 210 appearances). Returning to Kansas City generated a buzz among his new teammates and the city, but Royals’ manager Mike Matheny outlined the value of his return. “As far as expectations are concerned, come in and be Zack Grienke,” Matheny said prior to Sunday’s game with the Diamondbacks. “This is a good time for someone to come here and pitch, just not throw, continue to take the ball, field your position, take care of the running game. There are so many different things he has done especially well. Our group is a very eager group to learn.”

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