PHOENIX – Recent success of the Arizona Diamondbacks is partly due to a change in culture, direction, and philosophy.
Coming into the final series of the current road trip in Philadelphia, Arizona is seven games over .500 and place, for now, a tentative hold on second place in the National League west division. By virtue of the Dodgers’ loss in St Louis Sunday, the Diamondbacks are one game behind the division-leading Dodgers and two in the loss column.
While these numbers remained meaningless at this part of the season, the rise near the top of the division is a result of the recent hard stand taken by club officials.
Since the start of the season, and nearly two months ago, the attitude of “win-now” permeated down from the inner sacrum of the club decision-makers to players on the diamond. More important, players now in place are producing at a high level, and when several achieve to considerable levels, that usually portends success.
The approach is that education, patience, and error are now in the rare view mirror. Now, it’s “what have you done for me lately” which is “the new normal.” Since the beginning of spring training, field manager Torey Lovullo simply tells reporters, “we have a very good baseball team with very good players”
Perhaps, but the moment of judgment remains in execution.
When veteran Madison Bumgarner imploded in the opening weeks of the season, general manager Mike Hazen and club officials immediately banished the lefty to the desert. When right Drey Jameson failed to execute and outfielders Alex Thomas and Jake McCarthy, all of whom were expected to contribute to the 2023 season, faltered, they, too, were sent packing.
“Decisions are always hard on me,” Lovullo said. “We made these moves for one reason, and it was based on performance. Unfortunately, that’s what this game is all about. It’s weighted on how you perform and help your team win games.”
Players who performed in recent weeks, like Pavin Smooth, recalled from AAA Reno in early May and Dominic Fletcher who has replaced Thomas in center, now represent the new-normal approach.
At the same time, Josh Rojas continues his challenge at the plate. Here, Lovullo continues to platoon Rojas with Emanual Rivera and Evan Longoria at third base, and of the three, Rojas is considered the long-term investment. After the opening weeks of the season, Rojas was among the leading hitters in the National League and was hitting.333 on April 21. Entering the Phillies series, he is down to .256.
“I trust Josh and Josh is a very good baseball player,” Lovullo said. “Right now, he is one day away from hurricane Rojas showing up. I believe in him that much.”
Patience for Rojas too, could run thin.
Decisions looking … righthander Zack Davies is completing a rehab program at AA Amarillo and could be ready to enter the rotation. He reportedly threw 4.2 innings, 60 pitches, zero runs, and three hits. Once Davis is returned to the Arizona rotation, it’s decision time for Lovullo and Hazen. Currently, there is Tommy Henry, Ryne Nelson, and Brandon Pfaadt, all three rookies in the rotation. If Davis is inserted into the rotation, one will likely be shipped to AAA Reno
Finale … the current road trip ends with three in Philly. On Monday night, look for lefty Tommy Henry (1-1, 5.00) opposing veteran right-hander Zack Wheeler (3-3, 4.06). On Tuesday night, it’s righty Ryne Nelson (1-2, 5.48) and Phillies’ skipper Rob Thomson is undecided. For the get-away game Wednesday afternoon, right Zac Gallen, (6-2, 2.95) from nearby south Jersey, opposes lefty Ranger Suarez (0-1, 10.50. The Diamondbacks then return to Chase Field for a 10-game home stand featuring Boston, Colorado and Atlanta.