Brandon Pfaadt struggles; Diamondbacks seeking 'impact' with Jake McCarthy
Brandon Pfaadt knew immediately that his night was over. Before Torey Lovullo could reach the mound, Pfaadt stepped off the rubber, handed the ball to his skipper and kept walking, stride unbroken, into the Diamondbacks’ dugout and into an uncertain future.
Just 23 days ago, Pfaadt arrived in the away clubhouse in Texas as an elevated breed of prospect. Tommy Henry, Ryne Nelson and Drey Jameson had all made their debuts before him, each with varying degrees of optimism. For Pfaadt, the dial was set to 100. The Diamondbacks viewed him as their top pitching prospect and weren’t afraid to let it be known. General Manager Mike Hazen said conversations about the club’s young pitchers centered around him. Outside observers gushed about his arsenal, his command and his makeup.
Now, through five starts, the line: 23 2/3 innings, 31 hits, 22 runs, eight walks, 18 strikeouts. For those doing the math at home, that’s an 8.37 ERA.
The latest start, in a 7-2 loss to the Red Sox, brought new levels of concern. At 3 2/3 innings, it was Pfaadt’s shortest outing, dooming the Diamondbacks to a near-certain defeat by the time he was removed. And it happened on the eve of Zach Davies’ return from an oblique injury.
To clear a spot for Davies, the Diamondbacks will need to make a roster move, most likely by optioning a starting pitcher to Triple-A Reno. Tommy Henry carries the least pedigree, but has pitched well in three of his last four starts, with a 3.91 ERA over that span. Ryne Nelson has struggled for much of the year, but has delivered two excellent starts in a row thanks to a mechanical adjustment that helped him find more velocity and life on his fastball.
Entering Friday, Pfaadt was trending in a similarly positive direction, with four runs allowed in 10 1/3 innings over his last two starts. That improvement disappeared in large part because of an issue Pfaadt battled back in his first two major league starts: fastball command.
“They were so comfortable,” Pfaadt said. “We didn't really command the fastball in. I think that led them to be super comfortable and hit those pitches that I left over the middle of the plate.”
The Red Sox decisive blow — a two-run, fourth inning homer — came on a fastball that Pfaadt left middle-up. Their other two big hits — a pair of second inning doubles — both came on off-speed offerings. Even those, Pfaadt said, were impacted by his lack of fastball command.
“If we would've showed (fastball) in and then went to that slider, I think it would've been a different story,” Pfaadt said.
For Lovullo, that has been the biggest discrepancy between the reports he got on Pfaadt in the minor leagues and the pitcher he’s watched in the majors.
“I just feel like it's all predicated off of fastball command,” Lovullo said. “You start dotting that fastball up in one, two, three spots in the zone, you can really open up some holes and exploit some weaknesses. I just think he's kind of living in one area with that fastball. And if it's not here, it's a yank, which is causing him to throw the ball more in the middle target, middle area of the plate.”
There were, on the surface, some positive signs from Pfaadt’s outing. He walked none for the first time and struck out four for the second time. And, given his standing in the organization, it's no guarantee he will be the pitcher to cede way to Davies. To Lovullo, though, “this wasn’t one of his best outings.”
“I just don't think he made quality adjustments to get back into being able to walk the fastball around, keep them off balance and keep pressing through,” Lovullo said.
Given Saturday’s looming roster decision, it was hardly the impression Pfaadt wanted to leave.
Diamondbacks seeking ‘impact’ with Jake McCarthy’s return to majors
With Jake McCarthy swinging a hot bat in Triple-A Reno, the Diamondbacks decided the time was right to bring the talented outfielder back to the majors, even if it meant sending down another outfielder in Dominic Fletcher whose performance over the past month did not warrant a demotion.
The decision, according to manager Torey Lovullo, seemed to come down to the club’s overall belief in McCarthy. For the final two months of last season, McCarthy was a pesky, electric presence in the lineup. Based on what they saw from McCarthy the past couple of weeks in Reno, the Diamondbacks think he is ready to be that version once again.
“We know that he can impact games when he’s playing to the level that we feel like he’s ready to play at,” Lovullo said. “He hit third for us for most of the year last year, so we know he can impact baseball games on both sides of the ball.”
Considering the damage Fletcher did at the plate during his time in the majors, particularly during the team’s previous homestand, his demotion came as something of a surprise. In 78 at-bats, Fletcher owned a .308/.349/.474 line with 13 RBIs. However, his production fell off over the club’s just-completed road trip, on which he went 6 for 36 (.167) with 10 strikeouts.
There is a curious coincidence surrounding the move. A year ago, it was McCarthy whom the Diamondbacks sent down due to a roster crunch despite his impressive play. This time, Fletcher finds himself in that position, with McCarthy the one to replace him.
“I told him, ‘This is a hard decision and it’s not a very popular decision,’” Lovullo said, recalling his conversation with Fletcher. “And if we got it wrong, we’ll unravel it. If we got it wrong, you need to show us when you’re going down there that we got it wrong and we’ll unravel it. So he has a responsibility, as well.”
McCarthy hit just .143 (9 for 63) in his first 22 games before being sent down. He hit .333/.419/.533 in 105 plate appearances in Triple-A and had been particularly productive over the past couple of weeks, with 17 hits in his final 37 at-bats (.460) with two doubles and two homers.
McCarthy downplays the idea of mechanical adjustments keying his turnaround, suggesting his biggest change was slowing the game down.
“I think I was kind of rushed at the plate,” McCarthy said. “That can kind of cause me to maybe swing at pitches I shouldn’t be swinging at. Or have my bat in and out of the zone really quickly.
“I didn’t think I was pressing, but, obviously, when the results aren’t there, you really want to — what’s the saying — go 4 for 3? Like I was trying to do too much with the opportunities I was getting. I’m just trying to get back to who I am as a player.”
Lovullo said he impressed upon Fletcher the importance of honing in his selectivity at the plate after he displayed more chase than Lovullo would have liked on the road trip.
“Nobody comes here is perfect for the first 50, 70, 100 at-bats,” Lovullo said. “And I tried to get ahead of him in my explanation to that. These are growing pains that you usually get some time to work through when you're in the big leagues. We just are afforded the opportunity to call up a player like Jake McCarthy in this situation.”
It could be a situation that plays out multiple times as the year progresses, particularly with Alek Thomas also in Reno trying to work his way back to the majors. Lovullo acknowledged the possibility of seeing, at times, a rotating cast of outfielders surrounding Corbin Carroll and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
“That’s something that was thrown around in my office,” Lovullo said. “Get hot, come up here and let’s catch lightning in a bottle and let it ride for as long as possible.”
Zach Davies to return from injured list to start Saturday vs. Red Sox
Right-hander Zach Davies will be reinstated from the injured list to start on Saturday, a move that will prompt the Diamondbacks to bump one of their current starters out of the rotation.
Manager Torey Lovullo said the club plans to stick with a five-man rotation, so it will have to decide what to do with one of Tommy Henry, Ryne Nelson or Brandon Pfaadt, whether that means sending one of them to Triple-A Reno or shifting one into a relief role.
Davies, who has not pitched since April 8 due to a left oblique strain, threw 4 2/3 innings without allowing a run in a rehab start for Double-A Amarillo on Saturday.
Carson Kelly ramps up rehab in return from injury
Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly served as the designated hitter in an extended spring training game on Friday, manager Torey Lovullo said, his first game action since suffering a fractured forearm in March. Kelly was scheduled to DH again on Saturday.
Kelly is still working his way back into full game action. It might be a reasonable approximation to consider this like the start of spring training games for Kelly, Lovullo said.
In health news for another Diamondbacks catcher, Gabriel Moreno had a root canal on Friday morning, Lovullo said.
“He’s available,” Lovullo said. “I made the decision to pull him out of today’s lineup.”
GM Mike Hazen and family present donation to cancer research
Diamondbacks General Manager Mike Hazen and his family presented a $200,000 check to the Ivy Brain Tumor Center before Friday’s game. Hazen lost his wife, Nicole, last August after a two-year battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
The donation was matched by Cynthia Oehme and Amy and Andrew Cohn, on behalf of The Women’s Board of Barrow Neurological Foundation, bringing the total to $400,000.
Hazen said Nicole wanted to find a way to help others even after she was gone.
“It became a huge thing for her,” Hazen said. “It’s something I think you latch onto as we kind of started going down the road we did. We talked a lot about me carrying on her story, her legacy, and this being part of that, of helping other people. That’s who she was as a person. That part was most important to her.”
Hazen added: “Unfortunately, we just talk about ‘hope’ now with glioblastoma. We need to find real hope, so when they tell you to be hopeful, that there’s clinical trials, there’s drugs, there’s a path forward with this disease. That’s why we are continuing to raise money. Because every dollar that we are getting we are sending directly into research and clinical trial funding through the Ivy Brain Tumor Center.”
Red Sox-Diamondbacks pitching matchup
Diamondbacks RHP Brandon Pfaadt (0-1, 7.56) vs. Red Sox LHP Chris Sale (4-2, 5.01).
Pfaadt gave up three runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Pirates last weekend in Pittsburgh, getting what seemed like a relatively quick hook in the sixth inning despite a pitch count at 85. Pfaadt continued to have trouble missing bats with his fastball, getting only two whiffs on 23 swings on the pitch in that outing. … With RHP Zach Davies likely to come off the injured list, it could be that Pfaadt will be trying to show in this outing he deserves to keep his rotation spot. … His most effective pitch has been his slider; hitters have just a .130 average on 15 balls in play. … Sale missed most of the previous three seasons with a variety of injuries and struggled for consistency early in the year. But he is perhaps getting closer to finding his old form in recent starts, logging a 2.30 ERA with three walks and 32 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings over his past four starts. … From 2012-2018, Sale finished in the Top 6 in the AL Cy Young race every year, finishing as high as second place in 2017. … Sale has only faced three Diamondbacks hitters but has had good success against them: 3B Evan Longoria (.158 average, 38 at-bats), OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (.167 average, 18 at-bats) and 2B Ketel Marte (.167, six at-bats).
Saturday: At Chase Field, 4:15 p.m., Diamondbacks RHP Zach Davies (0-0, 5.79) vs. Red Sox RHP Garrett Whitlock (1-2, 6.19).
Sunday: At Chase Field, 1:10 p.m., Diamondbacks RHP Merrill Kelly (5-3, 2.98) vs. Red Sox RHP Tanner Houck (3-3, 4.99).
Monday: At Chase Field, 1:10 p.m., Diamondbacks TBA vs. Rockies RHP Karl Kauffmann (0-2, 9.35).
Read more: Diamondbacks set to recall Jake McCarthy, option Dominic Fletcher
What to know about the Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox had a rough winter, losing out on multiple free agents, including one of their own in SS Xander Bogaerts, who left for the San Diego Padres. They then got off to a fast start, moving to 21-14 on May 6, but have gone just 5-10 over their past 15 games. Their offense has been potent, led by Japanese import LF Masataka Yoshida, who has compiled a .299/.373/.482 line with six homers and the same number of walks (17) as strikeouts. CF Jarren Duran has also swung the bat well since an early-season promotion from Triple-A, though he enters the series 0 for 19 in his past five games. The Red Sox have struggled to get quality work from their rotation and recently have bumped a pair of starters — RHPs Nick Pivetta and Corey Kluber — into bullpen roles. LHP Chris Sale and RHP Brayan Bello, whom the Diamondbacks will miss, have been throwing well of late. RHP Kenley Jansen is 10 for 13 in save chances.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Brandon Pfaadt struggles; Diamondbacks seeking 'impact' with Jake McCarthy