June 25, 2024

Arizona Diamondbacks Pitchers Begin a Competitive Spring Training for the Fifth Rotation Spot

SCOTTSDALE – Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo and his coaching staff have a tough decision to make by the end of March. Which pitcher during spring training will make a case for the fifth rotation spot this season? The first weekend of spring training games have concluded, but Lovullo has made it clear there is no question that the club feels very strongly about the four starters consisting of Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Brandon Pfaadt. To open the games up last week the Dbacks rolled out the competition for the final spot, giving the first start of the spring to Tommy Henry last Friday against the Colorado Rockies, followed by Ryne Nelson against the same Colorado Rockies.

Although primary candidates for the fifth spot appear to be Tommy Henry and Ryne Nelson, this spot will have to be earned. Other pitchers such as Slade Cecconi who started this past Sunday, or even Blake Walston who also started this Monday.”I like it. I like the spirit of competition. We talked about it a little and it’s a real thing,” Lovullo when speaking on the starting rotation. “I’m challenging everybody the same when they walk into my office, and just telling them they’ve got to go out and perform, and what you do in spring training matters.” According to Lovullo, consistency will be the key. Pitchers will have to show the coaching staff that they can repeatedly throw quality strikes, and control at-bats and the zone.

Tommy Henry

The 26-year-old southpaw put together a really solid season as the club’s mid-rotation starter. In 16 games started, Henry went 5-4 with a 4.15 ERA over 89 innings. His season was later cut short at the end of July after enduring a season-ending elbow injury. The team considered bringing him back amidst the postseason run to provide length in the bullpen. Ultimately they decided to stick with the rotation they had going onto a World Series run. Given the success that Henry had shown last season, along with 136 innings between last season and starting nine games in 2022, there is no reason that Henry can’t go out there to earn the spot that he once previously had.

When asked what Henry would be working on, Lovullo said, “Some of the things we told him directly is quality strikes with all of his pitches, getting ahead in counts, finishing off hitters, and not letting the at-bat linger.” Last Friday, in his MLB action since July 28, Henry looked sharp as ever tossing a pair of scoreless innings while striking out three. The lefty only faced seven hitters on 22 pitches. The increase in fastball velocity was ticked up averaging out at 92.6 MPH, compared to 2023 averaging 90.7 MPH. This was another key that Lovullo had spoken on for Henry to show the ability of a consistent fastball and to get ahead in counts. On his final pitch of his outing he dotted up a wicked curveball directly down to the inside part of the plate striking-out Rockies top prospect Adael Amador.

His rookie year had its highs and lows, but he is poised to stay the course and continue to put in work on the right things with pitching coach Brett Strom. “I’ve seen a lot of good things from him. He’s been here a long time. I know he’s very dedicated towards winning that fifth spot. There are a few guys that fall into that category as well. I’ve loved everything I’ve seen from him.” Of the 33 pitches thrown on Saturday, he threw one changeup and two curveballs. He primarily stuck to his fastball-slider. Velocity was also ticked up to 95.2 MPH, compared to 94.4 MPH in 2023.

What Nelson is working on is to not become reliant on just throwing fastballs. He is working on his swing-and-miss secondary pitches. That was what was working Saturday finding the dotting up Colorado hitters as 41 percent of his pitches were whiffs or called strikes. “It’s been a focus of swing-and-miss, so I think the more I focus on that, the strikeouts will come — and execution as well,” Nelson said after the game. “So I think those (strikeouts) are a byproduct of what I’ve been working on.” Nelson is slated to get his next start this Thursday against the San Francisco Giants.

Slade Cecconi

Come opening day, Slade Cecconi could be the dark horse this spring to make a case to become the fifth starter. If he is not starting then he will have a great case to be back in the bullpen which he ended last season. Like the other two starters that went over the weekend, he picked up right where the two starters had left off tossing a scoreless outing Sunday afternoon at Salt River Fields against the Chicago White Sox.

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