Two starts into his spring, Diamondbacks right-hander Brandon Pfaadt has done the same thing against Cactus League hitters that he has done throughout his minor league career: put up zeros.
Pfaadt breezed through his outing against the San Diego Padres on Saturday, striking out four in three scoreless innings. That gives him five scoreless innings with two hits, two walks and six strikeouts across two starts.
“I felt more comfortable,” said Pfaadt, who admitted to feeling nervous prior to his first start. “I think I got that first one out of the way. I feel like each time we go out there and kind of develop that routine, it’ll get easier.”
Pfaadt, who is widely regarded as the organization’s top pitching prospect, has found a believer in catcher Carson Kelly, who has caught both of his outings. Kelly called Pfaadt’s four-pitch mix “unique,” including a fastball that “gets on guys.” He also praised Pfaadt’s preparation and pitching mentality.
“He’s fearless,” Kelly said. “I think that’s the thing with guys, especially young guys, when they come up, they try to nibble and aren’t really attacking guys. But he’s done a really good job of filling up the zone and late (in counts) getting guys to chase.”
Pfaadt averaged 94.6 mph with his fastball, topping at 96.8 mph. He got two swinging strikes on the pitch. He also elicited a pair of whiffs on his slider. He struck out the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. on a 95 mph fastball in the first.
Pfaadt likely has an uphill battle to claim the open spot in the Diamondbacks’ rotation. He is competing against a trio of young starters in Ryne Nelson, Drey Jameson and Tommy Henry, all of whom already have big league experience and are on the 40-man roster. Pfaadt reached Triple-A last season.
“I think he’s doing exactly what we hoped he would do,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “I don’t know where it lands with all of our young starting pitchers, I just know we have a lot of good ones. And it’s going to be fun to watch. We’re going to have a tough decision to make.”
Of the aforementioned trio, Jameson has posted the best results in his two outings, giving up just one hit and one walk with three strikeouts in four scoreless innings.
Right-hander Merrill Kelly is experimenting with a new pitch, a slider, this spring, using it six times, according to pitch-tracking data.
Manager Torey Lovullo said Kelly thought it could be another option to get early-count outs or even swings and misses with two strikes against right-handed hitters.
“What he does works already,” Lovullo said. “We know that. I think good pitchers and good players are always making adjustments. It was definitely something he brought into camp. He embraced it. We’re going to watch him continue to work on it.”
Kelly already throws both a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a curveball, change-up and cutter. If he brings a slider into the season it would give him a sixth offering.
Ronnie Gajownik, who this year will become the first female manager at the High-A level for the Diamondbacks’ affiliate in Hillsboro, Ore., served as the bench coach for Lovullo at Salt River during Saturday’s split-squad.
Gajownik was filling in for Jeff Banister, who managed the game at Scottsdale Stadium.
“It was kind of cool to be in the game and have that connection with Torey and just the conversations we were having,” Gajownik said. “Him asking me questions, me asking him questions. It was a really cool environment to be around.”
Said Lovullo: “She was great. Asked a lot of questions, had good baseball conversations. … It was a great opportunity for me to get to know her. She has a great baseball mind.”
Left-hander Madison Bumgarner said he plans to wear a PitchCom transmitter in his start on Saturday, a device that will allow him to signal to his catcher what pitch he intends to throw.
*Right-hander Zac Gallen appears to be on track to make his Cactus League debut on Tuesday vs. the Oakland Athletics at Salt River Fields.
Padres 5, Diamondbacks (ss) 4
At Salt River Fields
Diamondbacks (ss) 9, Giants 5
At Scottsdale Stadium
At the plate: At Salt River Fields, the Diamondbacks’ offense was held to six hits, all singles, though they also walked seven times. 1B Christian Walker had two hits and 2B Ketel Marte drew a pair of walks. At Scottsdale Stadium, 3B Deyvison De Los Santos hit a tie-breaking, two-run home run in the eighth inning to put the Diamondbacks ahead for good. De Los Santos ranks among the organization’s Top 10 prospects, according to most publications. CF Corbin Carroll had a hit and a walk and LF Dominic Canzone had a pair of doubles.
On the mound: After RHP Brandon Pfaadt fired three scoreless innings, giving him five scoreless innings in two starts, a pair of lefty relievers struggled. First, LHP Andrew Chafin issued three walks and allowed two hits in two-thirds of an inning, giving up three runs in the fifth. LHP Kyle Nelson allowed two in the eighth, the damage coming in the form of a two-run homer off the bat of Padres C Luis Campusano. At Scottsdale, RHP Slade Cecconi gave up one run in two innings, striking out two. LHP Blake Walston gave up one run in 1 2/3 innings. RHP Bryce Jarvis allowed a run on three hits in two innings, with no walks and one strikeout.
Extra bases: Marte stole an out in the first inning at Salt River, deking Padres SS Tim Lopes into thinking a throw had gone into center field. Lopes came off the bag for a split second, giving Marte time to tag him out. CF Alek Thomas fired a one-hop strike to home in the seventh inning to cut down DH Rangel Ravelo trying to score.
Sunday’s game: Diamondbacks LHP Madison Bumgarner vs. Guardians RHP Triston McKenzie, 1:05 p.m.