What remains bewildering to most observers is the Diamondbacks’ surprising position near the top of the National League West division. What’s more astonishing is the team’s ability to stay in contention without a clear “number one” starter.
Teams in first place within their division or locked in post-season placement secure their station with a top or two quality starters. In the case of the Diamondbacks, right-hander Rubby De La Rosa, with 11 wins and Jeremy Hellickson, currently on the disabled list, with nine wins, represent the vast majority of victories by an Arizona starter. The next highest is Chase Anderson, who compiled six wins in his 22 starts.
As far back as spring training, there was no clear-cut choice to be the titular head of the staff. Josh Collmenter, coming off an 11-9 season and respectable 3.46 ERA, turned in a strong camp and was anointed by manager Chip Hale as the club’s opening day pitcher. After several marginal starts and high pitch counts, Collmenter was demoted to the bullpen, and the Diamondbacks lost what persona they established as a number one starter.
Still, Hale argues a number-one starter has emerged. Though numbers overall for the season have not been consistent with a top-of-the-line starter, Hale said his staff is young and emerging.
“Rubby has been that guy for us,” said Hale before Wednesday’s game with the Cardinals at home. “These guys are young and each has had a good run during the season. But I would say that Rubby is that guy for us.”
Despite a challenging opening weeks of the season, Hale and the Arizona management continued to stick with De La Rosa. Yet, the 26-year-old native of Santa Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, seems to have turned his season around. Slated to go Thursday night at home against the Cardinals, De La Rosa is 5-0 in his last seven starts with a 2.54 ERA. In his last 13 starts, he is 7-2 with a 2.95 ERA.
While he is the first to admit, Hale says the nature of his staff is conducive to emerging opportunities. With about seven weeks remaining in the season, Hale indicated the organization will accumulate a terrific amount of data and video to access the staff. That assessment will come in the off-season and Hale reserved judgment on the staff in general and individuals specifically until that time. As well, Hale managed to toss Randall Delgado, Daniel Hudson, and Aaron Blair among others, who may be in the mix for starting in 2016.
For now, Anderson, who was perhaps the Diamondbacks most effective starter over the opening two months of the season, hopes he is the chosen one. After hitting the wall around the All-Star break and a few weeks thereafter, Anderson was dispatched to the purgatory of the minors. Yet, he returned this past Sunday to shut out the Cincinnati Reds and turn in perhaps his best effort of the season in an eventual 4-0 victory.
“I hope I can be that guy,” Anderson said in reference to rising to elite status within the rotation. “I know I can get guys out in this league. I need to prove that on a consistent basis.”
A slight frame listed at 6-1, 195 pounds in the Diamondbacks media guide, Anderson shows a much learner stature. Admitting “I’m not a power pitcher,” Anderson relies on keeping his fast ball down in the strike zone. Earlier in the season, he was able to do just that. In his first 11 starts, Anderson was 1-1 with nine no-decisions. Since June 23, the native of Wichita Falls, Tex. 3-4 with two no-decisions.
After his recall from Triple-A Reno and a strong effort last Sunday against the Reds, Anderson said he’s ready to take a major step forward. That would include rising to the top of the rotation, but, he pointed out, there needs to be a significant turn-around.
“I need to keep my fast ball down on a consistent basis, and take advantage of the defense,” he said. “We have a great defensive team here. I know what I did in April, May and June. Maybe it was fatigue and some things got away. The good part now is I get to straighten things up here rather than in the minors.”
For his part, Hale is nearly like a patient father. Recognizing an education and maturity process at work, Hale and Arizona decision-makers remind listeners they are building now and looking to the future. That may be a plan for eventual construction of a winner but for now, the Diamondbacks continue to search for that critical “number one” starter.
Consider numbers from principal starters around the league. Zach Grienke of the Dodgers won eight straight from June 28 to August 16. Michael Wacha of the Cardinals reeled off seven straight from April 11 to May 24, and James Shields of the Padres won seven consecutive victories from April 11 to June.
For that to happen, Hale and others need the luxury of a few months so a pitcher can string six, seven, eight wins together. At this point of the season, there is just not enough time.