In a battle for what is now considered the final spot in the rotation, a quick start is vital.
That was the approach taken by Diamondbacks’ left-hander Tyler Skaggs when he took the mound Saturday and opened the Cactus League season. Locked in now what is considered a dead heat with Patrick Corbin and Randall Delgado for that coveted fifth selection in the rotation, Skaggs approached his assignment with purpose and determination.
In meeting with reporters after his session, Skaggs did not mention to the competition factor, and nor did the assembled media bring up the question. The eerie silence which enveloped the exchange was loud enough.
After spending part of last season at the major league level, Skaggs is fully aware of the urgency of the moment. Every failed outing is considered a step behind and opens the door ever so slightly for the competition to enter.
When Skaggs said he knew the importance of a fast start, that approach was in conjunction to create that step ahead.
On a prescribed pitch count, Skaggs lasted into the second inning but made a statement with strong fast ball command and sharp-breaking curve. Though he was charged with allowing four runs, two resulted on a double error on the same play. That was caused by a throwing error from Skaggs on a potential double play ball, and he later said that throw into centerfield might have resulted in a regular season defeat.
Still, Skaggs deemed his outing successful and pronounced the necessity to move forward.
“A good start is extremely important,” he said without noting competition for that fifth starting slot. “I threw in my normal sequence and attacked hitters. Felt good and threw strikes. Without the error, I thought it was a really good start.”
According to manager Kirk Gibson, yes, Skaggs threw the ball well, but there was also a major deficiency. Throwing strikes was an important part of the equation but Skaggs’ effort Saturday was not complete.
Execution remains equally vital.
“(Skaggs) came out throwing strikes, but he needs to address game management,” Gibson said. “He has to understand that certain situations in a game affect the number of pitches and overall game management.”
Within Gibson’s perspective, that did not happen.
While the start was favorable, the third hitter into the game appeared to doom Skaggs.
First, the 21 year-old out of Woodland Hills, Calif. opened the game by striking out Dexter Flower on three pitches. He quickly went ahead of Josh Rutledge before the Rockies second baseman lashed a single to right.
If Skaggs showed command in his opening pitches, he threw a nasty, off speed change to Carlos Gonzalez, who then bounced back to the mound. Sensing a double play, Skaggs turned toward second but hurried his throw. The ball sailed into centerfield and when Gerardo Parra let the ball slip under his glove, Rutledge scored and Gonzalez ended up on third.
Then, Troy Tulowitzki grounded to second, Gonzalez scored and Skaggs’s unforced error led to two unearned runs.
Citing the missed double play opportunity, Gibson pointed out the need to execute a complete effort. Noting that the pitch to Gonzalez was Skaggs’ 11th of the game, the inability to accurately throw to second prolonged the inning and increased Skaggs‘ pitch count.
“(Skaggs) must have thrown to second many, many times here in spring training, and knows what to do,” the manager added. “That’s kind of way things are done in spring training. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we need to work on things like game management.”
That may have factored into overall execution because Skaggs later admitted he compromised on essential fundamentals.
“Now, I know I need to work on my PFPs,” he said in referencing Pitchers Fielding Practice. “I knew the double play was there and I kind of forced it. The ball slipped out and I should have had it under control.”
There is considerable time left in spring training to address that issue of game management.
With the early start to spring training, Skaggs, Corbin and Delgado are expected to get six starts. Gibson set up the established four in the rotation Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Wade Miley and Brandon McCarthy are good for five outings.
Based on his initial outing Saturday, Skaggs, perhaps unknowingly, set the bar for Corbin and Delgado to address the critical issues of execution and game management.
A. J. Pollack was in the original starting lineup and slated to play leftfield.
During morning batting practice, Pollack approached Gibson and indicated he developed abdominal pain, and Adam Eaton was a last-minute replacement. Pollack was scheduled to hit seventh and in the revised line-up, Eaton hit ninth.
WEATHER PREMITTING …
After the freak snow storm earlier this week at Salt River, there was no sign of the white stuff.
The only reminder was chilly spring temperatures. The mercury read 55 degrees at game time, and despite a bright sun, a breeze in the shade made the air feel much colder.
Arizona temps are scheduled to rise over the next few days and Sunday’s forecast calls for the mercury to reach into mid-60s.
THE FIRST GAME AND BEYOND
In dropping a 11-2 decision to Colorado Saturday, the Diamondbacks raised the curtain on a spring slate of 37 games, including a March 5 contest with Team Mexico before the World Baseball Classic tournament.
For the game Saturday, the D-backs drew 11,576, a sell out, and pushed the two plus years attendance to 1,000,107 for all events at Salt River. Last spring, the D-backs set a Salt River record with 14 sell outs and, with the Rockies during spring training a year ago, the teams drew a combined 20 straight sellouts to the complex.
The spring slate continues Sunday with a return match with the Rockies.
While the D-backs were the home team in the shared facility Saturday, the Rockies will be the home team Sunday.
Patrick Corbin (6-8, 4.54 ERA in 17 starts with the D-Backs) is scheduled to start for Arizona Sunday, and followed by right-hander Charles Brewer 11-7, 5.99 at AAA Reno), right-hander Warner Madrigal (did not pitch last season because of right elbow surgery), right-hander Garrett Mock (3-2, 3.33 ERA at AAA Pawtucket), and right-hander Bo Schultz (2-3, 2.11 at AA Mobile).
The Rockies will start left-hander Jeff Francis (6-7, 5.58 ERA in 24 starts for Colorado). Game time is 1:10 p.m.