Zac Gallen prepares for opening day assignment

PHOENIX – Spring training is usually the time to iron out mechanics and glide to peak execution. Given the experience this spring of Arizona Diamondbacks’ right-hander Zac Gallen, recent weeks seem a distraction and a mere aberration.

The month of March has not been particularly productive.

Despite being named by manager Torey Lovullo as Arizona’s opening-day starter against the Dodgers for next Thursday, Gallen has been less than stellar this spring. Allowing five runs to the Cincinnati Reds in a 7-4 defeat to the Reds before 10,155 Friday at Salt River, Gallen, nonetheless, admitted he felt close to his projected level.

“(Friday) was the first time I felt pretty good for all pitches,” he said, after throwing 82 pitches. “In the last inning, it started to click and I started to feel really good out there. I tapped into some more (velocity) and a little more efficient my delivery.”

Eschewing a roster spot on Team USA in the recent World Baseball Classic, Gallen said he wanted to devote time to perfecting his slider as a first-pitch strike and overall location. Through his starts in March, the native of Somerdale, N. J. numbers were not kind. Against the Reds, he allowed those five runs, including two home runs. In all of 2022, Gallen surrendered 15 homers in 184 innings of work.

“For me to say results do not matter is probably misspeaking,” he said, after posting an 8.27 ERA for four spring starts. “For me, I’m concentrating more on different things and there are different results I’m looking as opposed to runs allowed and the ERA. It’s okay to get hit in spring training and you have no game plan. Some guys I haven’t seen before and so you have no idea what’s going on out there.”  

Coming off a 12-4 season (2.54 ERA), Gallen established a franchise mark of 44.1 consecutive scoreless innings. That represented the lowest in the majors since Zack Greinke turned in 45.2 scoreless innings in 2015. Since, Gallen has settled into a very reliable rhythm.

Earlier in the week, Lovullo made that decision and named Gallen as Arizona’s opening-day pitcher. With the announcement, Lovullo simply told reporters, “he’s earned it.”

“Zac was one of the top pitchers in the National League last season and he anchored our staff,” Lovullo said. “He deserved this. It’s an exciting moment for him and his first opening day start. That only happens to 30 pitchers and Zac is one. He deserves this and that’s the only I can come up with to share this decision.”

Before Friday’s game, Lovullo then outlined the top of his rotation After Gallen, Merrill Kelly, fresh after two starts for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, gets the ball for game two in Dodger Stadium and is followed by lefty Madison Bumgarner and righty Zack Davies. At this point, Lovullo indicated, a decision is forthwith on the fifth starter.

This battle appears down to two righties, Kyle Nelson and Drey Jamison. Lovullo said he hopes to have a decision by the time the team opens up its final two spring games in Chase Field against Cleveland this coming Monday and Tuesday.

Resting in 2023 … there is a plan in the works to give Christian Walker strategic days off this season. A year ago, the first baseman appeared in 160 games, hit .242, banged out 36 homers and drove in 94 runs.

Lovullo said he reigned to give Walker periodic rests and will insert Pavin Smith, Emmanuel Rivera, and Lourdes Gurriel. There was no indication of the actual amount of games Walker would start at first. One dimension of Lovullo’s style as a manager is to rotate players in and out of the lineup and provide adequate rest for the marathon which is the major league baseball season.

Visiting an old friend … on Saturday, the Diamondbacks travel across the Phoenix metro area to Peoria and engage the Seattle Mariners. The M’s will start lefty Robbie Ray, who pitched six seasons for the Diamondbacks and finished with a 15-5 record, 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts in the 2017 playoff season. After traded by Arizona to Toronto, Ray won the 2021 AL Cy Young Award with a 13-7 record, a 2.84 ERA and topped the AL with 248 strikeouts. This spring, the veteran lefty is 0-0 and a 0.75 ERA.

Elsewhere on Opening Day .. when Gallen started Friday, he was opposed by Cincinnati righty Hunter Greene, named as the Reds’ opening day pitcher against Pittsburgh in Great American Ballpark. Last season, Greene went 5-13 in 24 starts and posted a 4.44 ERA. At 23 years old, Greene is the first pitcher under 25 to start an opening day game for the Reds since Frank Pastore beat the Braves’ Phil Niekro in 1980.

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