Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo’s decision to pinch-hit for David Peralta in the sixth inning on Thursday night was a stunning reminder of the chaos wrought by a 60-game schedule.
Whatever the motivation — be it urgency or panic to win now — it was the first time Lovullo had hit for Peralta in that kind of spot in his three-plus years on the job.
It was also the latest example of how the Diamondbacks are attempting to feel their way through this strange and shortened season — assuming the sport can actually make it to the end, an outcome that feels less likely by the day.
So far, things have not gone well for the Diamondbacks. They entered Friday with a 2-5 record, which is the 162-game equivalent of a 5-14 start. They have sprung leaks in just about every area of the roster. The rotation has struggled to pitch deep into games. Their hitters aren’t hitting. The bullpen has given up big innings.
The Diamondbacks, like everyone else around baseball, are in a weird spot. They are conditioned, from years in the game, not to overreact to small sample sizes. They play a sport in which it is not uncommon for the best team in baseball to have multiple weeks as bad the one the Diamondbacks just had.
Last year, the Houston Astros had four separate seven-game stretches in which they went 2-5 or worse. They won 107 games.
But this year is unlike every other year, and it is forcing everyone to adjust, including baseball writers, who in the past would never ask questions or write stories about apparent panic or desperation so early in a season. Players have admitted to trying to strike the right balance.
“I don’t want (us) to put too much pressure on ourselves early to feel like we’ve got to win, win, win, win, win,” Diamondbacks first baseman Christian Walker said. “Even though that is the case, I don’t know if that’s the best way to achieve it.
“For me, looking back on the road trip, it’s finding that middle ground (between having) that sense of urgency but also knowing who we are as a team and knowing what makes us good.”
To be clear, this is not to suggest that the Diamondbacks and Lovullo are handling things poorly. Hitting for Peralta seemed extreme. But he is hitting .174 and is hitless — granted, he has only three at-bats — against lefties this year. Would the move have seemed as extreme if the team were three weeks in and Peralta were still hitting under .200?
However, there does seem to be a lack of clarity in the path the team is taking — or, at least, in the justifications given for their decisions. On Thursday, the Diamondbacks called up top prospect Daulton Varsho. Lovullo cited the team’s struggling offense as the impetus for the decision. He then said Varsho would be coming off the bench. Huh?
After Thursday night’s loss to the Dodgers, he was asked about shaking up his lineup. He alternated between saying he already had done that three days ago — he referenced moving Peralta and Kole Calhoun around in the batting order — and saying he wanted lineup continuity and consistency. Well, which is it?
Lovullo’s mixed messaging is understandable. He has spent his life in baseball, a game accustomed to making slow, aircraft-carrier turns, and now finds himself white-water rafting, trying not to get thrown overboard.
What is playing out is exactly the sort of chaos Diamondbacks General Manager Mike Hazen anticipated a few weeks back.
“I think we’re trained as baseball people to not get too wrapped up in any one game,” Hazen said in mid-July. “It’s how we’re trained our entire lives. ‘We lost four in a row, OK, big deal.’ That’s a big deal now. That’s not typical for us. It’s not the way any of us are wired.
“I just think I’ll be curious to see how baseball players react to that — and how coaches and front office react when presented with that dynamic for the first time.”
The Diamondbacks are getting to experience that for themselves much earlier than they would have liked.
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