Zac Gallen’s stock continues to rise among National League starters

PHOENIX – After a few roadblocks, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Zac Gallen has settled into a very productive comfort zone. That is not necessarily good news for opponents.

That’s because Gallen, named National League player-of-the week for April 10-16, set a franchise record in 2022 for conservative scoreless innings and seems to have picked up where he exited.

Following a few marginal outings to start the season, Gallen appears on a trajectory to the zenith of starters in the game. He eschewed an opportunity to pitch for Team USA in the recent World Baseball Classic and that was because he wanted to perfect elements of his game which already bordered on the near-perfect.

In his latest statement, Gallen, a native of Somerdale, New Jersey, gave one of the best results of his career. In going seven innings April 21 against San Diego, Gallen allowed only two hitters to reach base (second inning double to Xander Bogaerts and a line single to center by Fernando Tatis, Jr. with two outs in the sixth), struck out 11 batters nd walked none. That was two short of his career-high and the double-digits Ks catapulted Gallen into the major league lead in strikeouts.

In assisting Arizona to a 9-0 win over the Padres before 21,308 Friday night, Gallen was pitching from strength. He recorded 14 first-pitch strikes of the 23 hitters he faced and at one time, recorded a first-pitch strike to seven consecutive hitters. Those 11 strikeouts pushed Gallen into the major league lead and, through April 21, he was one K ahead of Shohei Ohtani of the Angels.

“No, I do not look (at Gallen) as a power pitcher,” said manager Torey Lovullo. “I think he hunts strikeouts and his stuff allows him to finish hitters. He doesn’t waste pitches and he’s not just a power pitcher. He has power there, but he also does three or four other things to get you out. Plus, he lands pitches. He has three or four different pitches and continues to pitch. At times, he does display a great deal of power.”

By holding San Diego scoreless, Gallen ran his consecutive scoreless innings to 22.1. Compare that to the franchise mark of 44.1 scoreless innings set last from Aug. 8 to Sept. 11. and Gallen is nearly halfway to eclipsing this achievement.

Modest and unassuming, Gallen is hesitant to talk about chasing milestones and records. Rather, he prefers to develop as a student of the game and seek ways to improve.

Allowing nine earned runs in his first two starts of the season, Gallen has since settled into a groove. He has not allowed runs in his last three starts and explained the slow start could be attributed to his inability to use his right leg to properly stride. That was a result of new spikes for 2023 and in recent starts, Gallen said he returned to an older pair of spikes which enable a tight landing.

A more important explanation is his ability to land first-pitch strikes. That has allowed for an economy of pitches and the penchant to land all four pitches for strikes.

“First time this season my delivery felt fully in sync,” Gallen said after raising his season mark to 3-1 with that win over San Diego. “I didn’t feel super comfortable in the first couple of starts. Even in spring training, I wasn’t feeling comfortable. The ball would not have a good feel here and there and then go away. Even in the last two starts, I felt okay and not great. Just trying to iron out the kinks. For me, everything is very delivery-based and fell-based. So (Friday night), I had a pretty good feel going into the game and it’s all about my feet. Just felt more comfortable with all four pitches.’

And yes, Gallen is aware of the scoreless streak. Some players reach certain achievements perhaps once in a career, but Gallen has reached significant scoreless streaks during the past two seasons,

“(Gallen) is a model of consistency, Lovullo added. “That includes his game planning, the day of and the day before, and his bullpen two days before that. Everything is scripted and his stuff comes out hot and live. He executes at a really high level.”

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