For the rest of the current campaign and into the up-coming off-season, Diamondbacks’ decision-makers face two critical issues. In addressing the dynamics of pitching, decisions regarding the search for front-end starters and the ability gain meaningful innings from the rest of the starters remains priorities.
After dropping three straight the Cardinals earlier this week and the National League West Division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers sweeping the Reds in Cincinnati, post-season hopes seems apparently dashed. Sure, mathematicians are kept busy with the notion that the Diamondbacks remain alive by virtue of numbers. Realistically, they had an opportunity at least stay close with the Dodgers, but could not.
Now, thoughts turn to restructure the pitching staff in hopes of making that dimension of team truly competitive. For an offense which remains one of the best in major league baseball, general manager Dave Stewart has little tweaking here. Going forward, the bulk of his attention will center on his former position. Stewart pitched for 16 seasons with the Dodgers, Rangers, Phillies, A’s and Blue Jays, and compiled a 168-129 record, 19 saves as a reliever and career 3.95 ERA.
Of the two issues before Stewart and Tony La Russa, the organization’s Chief Baseball Officer, paramount is longevity. That was addressed by field manager Chip Hale before Thursday’s game with the St. Louis Cardinals in Chase Field.
“We have to find starting pitchers that will give us innings,” Hale said. “Particular issues are different with different guys. We have a group of young players. For me, it’s the unpredictability of young pitchers which is exciting. You’re looking for signs of improvement each time they take the mound.”
For the Diamondbacks to strike within five games of first place in late August, without quality starting pitching, remains a mystery. Coming into Thursday game, the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff had a 4.03 team ERA and only the Reds, Braves, Brewers, Phillies and Rockies had a higher team ERA. Among teams with lower ERAs, three of the top lowest ERAs in the National League, the Cardinals, the Dodgers and the Mets, hold down first place in their division.
To their defense, the Diamondbacks’ medical staff has been very careful with the health of pitchers. Leaning more on the conservative side, the rehabilitation process for Tommy John patients, like Daniel Hudson, Matt Reynolds, David Hernandez and Patrick Corbin has been protracted.
A good example here is Corbin. Pitching six effective innings Wednesday night against the Cardinals at home, Hale pulled the left-hander at that point. Acknowledging “Patrick pitched very well and I didn’t want him to take the loss,” Hale addressed the dilemma he tends to face with all starters. In particular, Corbin’s stature is telling. While the native of Clay, N. Y. said he wanted to go further, the Diamondbacks have constantly said the health of any player remains paramount.
How the organization has used Corbin could foreshadow its approach to pitchers in general. While the game has changed over the past 10-15 years, teams not only have closers and set-up relievers, but managers are going more and more to specialty pitchers. These relievers come in for one or two batters and address a certain situation.
With that philosophy now permeating the game, managers could be influenced for pulling starters in favor of these specialty relievers. That approach seems in direct conflict with Hale’s assertion he would like more innings out of starters.
Starters with the most innings represent teams on the verge of post-season participation. Coming into play Thursday, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw leads the National League in innings pitched with 177 and followed by Jake Arrieta of the Cubs with 174 innings, John Lackey of the Cardinals with 172.1 innings, Zack Greinke of the Dodgers with 171.1 innings, and Max Scherzer of the Nationals with 171 innings. On Thursday afternoon, Greinke went seven innings in picking up a 1-0 victory at Cincinnati.
A WINNER WITHIN THE ORGANIZATION
The Diamondbacks’ Single A Kane County Cougars clinched the wild card spot in the up-coming Midwest League playoffs. Kane County plays home games in Geneva, Ill.
The Cougars will face a still to be determined team in the best of three opening round. With the second half post-season spot still to be decided, the Cougars being their playoff run on Sept. 9
The Cougars are managed by former major league infielder Mark Grudzielanek, who played 15 years for the Expos, Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Indians. Pitching coach Doug Bochtler is in his fifth year with the Diamondbacks, and hitting coach Vince Harrison is in his second year in the organization.