Eric Hosmer scorched a ball to left field for a double, the third consecutive hit off Diamondbacks right-hander Zack Godley to open the fifth inning on Saturday. The hit appeared to be the latest piece of evidence that Godley’s night might be nearing an end.
Instead, manager Torey Lovullo stuck with his starting pitcher through the inning and, in the process, watched a lead turn into a deficit in a game the Diamondbacks would eventually lose to the San Diego Padres on a walk-off hit in the ninth inning.
Since taking over as Diamondbacks manager prior to last season, Lovullo routinely has asked a lot of his rotation. And last year, with a group of five starters that might have comprised the most consistent rotation in club history, that strategy paid off.
This season, however, has been more difficult for Lovullo, and on Sunday, after admitting his mistake from the night before, he sounded like his philosophy will be shifting over the season’s final six weeks.
“I’m wearing a little bit of what happened yesterday,” Lovullo said, adding, “Yesterday is an example of where I should probably pay attention to things a little bit closer and keep a shorter leash on him in that fifth inning.”
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Diana Payan, The Republic | azcentral.com
When Lovullo got the job, he took over a pitching staff that had lost faith in the previous regime’s in-game management. After a start in June 2016, left-hander Patrick Corbin complained to reporters about how quickly manager Chip Hale got the bullpen going, saying it played a part in how he pitched. He felt he had to be extra careful, worried that if one additional run scored it would bring an end to his night.
“I thought I had to maybe bear down a little bit and almost pitch around guys, trying to throw perfect pitches,” Corbin said. “I don’t know. It’s tough to go out there when you give up a hit – you just want some trust in you. Maybe show some trust in the starter that they can work their way out of that.”
A month later, then-reliever Josh Collmenter made similar remarks, saying, “It seemed like there was always, not an eagerness, but a quickness to go to the bullpen.”
Lovullo never specifically referenced those comments, but he clearly was aware of them in April 2017 when he told reporters he wanted his starters to expect to complete seven innings. He wanted his starters imbued with his trust, fully aware of his confidence in them.
Things could hardly have worked out better last season, likely in part because Lovullo had something Hale didn’t: five dependable starters. Whereas the Diamondbacks ranked among the worst starting staffs in baseball in 2016, they were among the best last year.
This year, with the staff ranking closer toward the middle of the pack, Lovullo has gotten a taste of what Hale experienced. By and large, Lovullo has continued to stick with his starters deep into games. The results haven’t always been there.
Generally speaking, starters fare worse against opposing lineups the more times they face them within a game. Diamondbacks starters rank third in the league in the number of times they’ve faced the opposition three times in a game. And they’re fourth-worst in terms of limiting damage in those situations.
Lovullo says his primary reason for sticking with his starters so deep into games is to preserve his bullpen, and to justify that line of thinking he needs only to point at that unit’s success over the past two years. Since the start of last year, no team in the National League has a better bullpen ERA than the Diamondbacks’ 3.47.
“If your starters are going deep into the games,” Lovullo said, “I feel very strongly that you’re going to have a very successful season.”
With Godley on Saturday, the reasons to go to the bullpen seemed overwhelming. He already had given up three runs the previous inning. He has been susceptible, like most pitchers, the third time through, and he had seen several good starts get away from him in the middle innings this season. Moreover, the Diamondbacks had a rested, eight-man bullpen and two off days in the coming week.
Godley might have allowed the tying and go-ahead runs to score after Hosmer’s double, but it was an outcome that might affect change. Lovullo believes he needs to manage differently now that every game could be the difference between playing or sitting at home in October.
“It’s just, at this point in the year, things change,” Lovullo said. “Decisions need to be done a little bit differently, about winning games instead of preserving bullpens or showing confidence. They know I have confidence in them.”
Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.