SAN FRANCISCO – When the Diamondbacks acquired right fielder Steven Souza Jr. in February, they did not envision him as a pure one-for-one offensive replacement for J.D. Martinez. Instead, they saw him as a sum-of-his-parts type, someone whose total contributions might approximate Martinez’s value.
What they envisioned was the sort of performance Souza gave them on Wednesday night at AT&T Park. He hit a rocket for a home run. He smoked another ball for a double. He made a pair of diving catches, one of which his pitcher said ranked among the best he’d ever seen.
“He was a catalyst for us today,” manager Torey Lovullo said, “on both sides of the ball.”
The Diamondbacks certainly didn’t expect it to take until late August for Souza to have this sort of game, but they weren’t complaining Wednesday night after their 3-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants, a win that allowed them to both avoid a sweep and head to Los Angeles as a first-place team in advance of a crucial series against the Dodgers.
BOX SCORE: Diamondbacks 3, Giants 1
The year has not played out anywhere close to the way Souza would have scripted it. One month after he was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in a three-team deal, Souza hurt his shoulder in a Cactus League game diving for a ball in right-center field. It cost him five weeks at first, then, after a brief return, he spent another six weeks on the shelf nursing the same injury.
He hasn’t been bad since returning, but he hasn’t been the same kind of explosive player the Diamondbacks saw crush 30 homers and swipe 16 bags last season with the Rays. His third-inning homer on Wednesday – a line-drive shot that snapped the Diamondbacks’ 25-inning scoreless drought – was just his fourth of the season.
Souza wouldn’t acknowledge the shoulder as a possible source of his power outage; it was the kind of answer that almost made it sound like the injury actually has been a factor. But he did speak openly about some approach changes he made this year that are visible in his batted-ball numbers.
The Diamondbacks’ Steven Souza Jr. talks about what he likes about hitting leadoff and his diving catch in the sixth inning.
Of his 30 homers last year, 26 of them went to left or left-center field, and 46.8 percent of his balls in play were categorized as going to the pull side. This year, however, he had pulled the ball only 38.8 percent of the time entering Wednesday.
Souza believes that earlier this season he had been trying to use the whole field too often, adding that by trying to “carve” the ball into the right-center field gap his swing might have gotten too long.
“I think at times,” he said, “I’ve gotten a little too conscious of hitting it maybe to right field a little too much and that’s maybe sapped me a little bit.”
More recently, he’s been working with hitting coaches Dave Magadan and Tim Laker on getting back to a “hit it where it’s pitched” approach. For him, that means pulling an inside pitch and going the other way with something on the outer half.
He showed the kind of impact he can make on the other side of the ball in the sixth inning when pinch-hitter Gregor Blanco sent a drive into the right-center field gap that Souza tracked down with a diving grab.
“I think the ball hung up a little bit here,” Souza said. “It doesn’t carry too well. I got a good jump off the bat.”
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo talks about Zack Godley’s performance and Steven Souza Jr.’s placement in the leadoff spot.
Said pitcher Zack Godley: “For me – and granted, I’m looking at it from the mound and not a TV or something like that – but it’s one of the best catches I’ve ever seen. That’s huge. That definitely saves a run, for sure.”
The catch helped Godley put together an impressive bounce-back start. He gave up just one run in 7 2/3 innings, the third strong outing in as many days by a Diamondbacks pitcher in this park, but the first to result in a win.
After homering in the third, Souza, batting in the leadoff spot for the first time this year, added an RBI double in the fourth. He had asked Lovullo about possibly hitting leadoff weeks ago, when the club was in Cincinnati. Lovullo pondered the idea, then decided to roll with it on Wednesday in an attempt to shake up a dormant offense.
“It just lined up perfectly today,” Lovullo said. “Obviously, it worked well. Maybe we’ll stay with it tomorrow.”
Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.