Diamondbacks, Cecconi salvage split with Giants in series finale

SAN FRANCISCO — A couple hours before first pitch on Sunday afternoon, Diamondbacks right-hander Merrill Kelly made a quick stop at a teammate’s locker and delivered a message to the pitcher who would be starting in his place. Go do your thing, he told Slade Cecconi.

Kelly is the Diamondbacks’ No. 2 starter, one of the better pitchers in the National League, and most everyone in the visitors’ clubhouse at Oracle Park arrived on Sunday morning to the news that Kelly would not be making his scheduled start. His shoulder was hurting. For a team that already had been dealt blow after blow on the injury front in the season’s opening weeks, it had the potential to be a demoralizing, dispiriting day.

Instead, the Diamondbacks came away with one of their more heartening victories, beating the San Francisco Giants, 5-3, to salvage a split of a four-game series. Cecconi was sharp in six innings. Gabriel Moreno made big contributions both at and behind the plate. The bullpen protected a lead. And the Diamondbacks, battered by injuries, made it through another series without the wheels falling off.

“This team is beat up, tired, dealing with some unforeseen circumstances, and they go out and win a huge game,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “It just speaks volumes about this team’s toughness, their ability to focus at the most critical time, and then close it out and win a game.”

Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno (14) talks to starting pitcher Slade Cecconi (43) before the pitch against the San Francisco Giants during the fourth inning at Oracle Park.
Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno (14) talks to starting pitcher Slade Cecconi (43) before the pitch against the San Francisco Giants during the fourth inning at Oracle Park.

While still in Triple-A Reno, Cecconi got word on Saturday night he might be needed to start in the big leagues on Sunday. He received word from Lovullo he was either starting or pitching bulk innings in relief, but it wasn’t until a few hours before the game that assistant pitching coach Dan Carlson popped by his locker to tell him the decision was made. He would be starting.

Back in the ballpark where he made his major league debut last August, Cecconi looked right at home. He did not allow a hit until two outs in the fifth. He struck out only two, but the Giants put just four balls in play in the air or on a line at 95 mph or harder.

Cecconi needed only 64 pitches to get through six innings, giving up two runs on two hits, walking none. Among those were 14 change-ups, a pitch he tweaked last season thanks to a piece of advice from none other than Kelly. Cecconi said he appreciated the words of encouragement the veteran delivered at his locker before the game.

“Him coming up to me and telling me he trusted me and was confident in me, it means a lot,” Cecconi said. “I was really excited to get the opportunity today and I’m glad I was able to come through for this team.”

Some players had heard about Kelly’s shoulder the night before, but most had not, Lovullo said. Many were wondering about the impending roster move when they saw Cecconi’s locker in the clubhouse.

“That’s what makes it even better,” Lovullo said of the win. “Nobody knew it. You have to deal with these bombs that are being dropped on us, and this group did. They wore it, took it head on and won a baseball game.”

Said first baseman Christian Walker: “Our No. 2 having some shoulder discomfort, you don’t love it. But we’re also at a time in the year where you don’t have time or extra energy to focus too much on things like that. It’s like, ‘Yeah, it happened, and it’s crappy, but we have to win today.’”

Moreno played no small part. Not only did he shoot the go-ahead, two-run single through the drawn-in infield in the fifth, he also fired a strike to second to cut down Jung Hoo Lee trying to steal after leading off the eighth with a walk against reliever Ryan Thompson.

Thompson called Moreno’s throwing arm “probably the best in the league,” adding that the decision to run on him was a “bold move.” But he also noted his reputation as being slow to the plate, something he thinks he addressed late last season.

“I think it was one of those things where he thought he could have an easy bag,” Thompson said, “and I was quick to the plate on that pitch.”

Still, the Giants made it interesting on multiple occasions. With the bases full and two out in the seventh, Giants manager Bob Melvin sent slugger Jorge Soler to the plate to hit for shortstop Nick Ahmed. Reliever Bryce Jarvis induced a ground out. (That decision might have been costly when shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald dropped a throw the next inning, leading to at least one run.)

The Giants later brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Diamondbacks closer Kevin Ginkel struck out Mike Yastrzemski to end it.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Diamondacks, Cecconi salvage split, beat Giants in series finale