It took Vidal Nuno nearly two months and nine starts to try and break a smile.
This would mean his initial victory in Sedona Red but that expression will have to wait. Despite a strong effort Saturday against visiting San Diego, Nuno appeared to run out of gas in the eighth inning and had to settle for his third straight no-decision and fifth no-decision in his nine starts this season.
In the end, Didi Gregorius send the 30,583 fans in Chase Field home happy. That’s when he snapped an eighth inning tie with a three-run homer and gave the Diamondbacks a 5-2 victory.
After a one-out walk to Alfredo Marte and a single to right from Jake Lamb, Gregorius jumped on an 0-2 offering from Padres’ reliever Kevin Quackenbush and deposited his sixth home run over the right field fence. The blast snapped a 2-for-39 slump for the Arizona shortstop.
“You try not to think about it and don’t drag previous at-bats into the next,” he said. “(In the eighth inning), I was trying to put the ball in play and try and get some runs in. It was a fast ball and no, I didn’t think it was out.”
Yet, the night should have belonged to Nuno.
Showing first-strike command and economy of pitches, Nuno allowed only two base runners until the seventh. That’s when the lefty hit lead-off batter Rymar Liriano with a pitch and one out later, Nuno surrendered a single to Cameron Maybin and walked Alexi Amarista. That brought manager Kirk Gibson to the mound and the skipper made the move to the bullpen.
Oliver Perez entered and appeared to get out of the bases-loaded, one out jam. First, he fanned pinch hitter Jed Gyorko but lead-off hitter Yangervis Solarte, recently acquired from the Yankees in the Chase Headley deal, lined an 0-2 pitch into the center field. The single scored two and deadlocked the game.
From there, Gregorius picked up Perez and salvaged the Diamondbacks’ 55th victory of the season against 75 losses.
“I’m starting to get into a rhythm and trust my pitches,” Nuno said afterward. “It’s about the confidence to throw strikes.”
Throughout the game, Nuno was getting outs on few pitches. He breezed through the first inning on just seven pitches and tossed 72 after seven frames. When he left with one out in the eighth, Nuno’s count was up to 92 pitches.
Since his acquisition from the Yankees for pitcher Brandon McCarthy, the Diamondbacks asked Nuno to make a few adjustments and, despite no victories in the National League, the results have been encouraging.
“I changed my arm slot and the delivery point to my pitches,” Nuno added. “(Against San Diego), I mixed my pitches pretty well, and was up and down. Yeah, I was getting a little tired (in the eighth) but overall, I think things went well.”
From the start, the Diamondbacks took advantage of San Diego starter Andrew Cashner’s first start since June 18, a no-decision against Seattle. Five days later, Cashner went on the disabled list with right shoulder soreness and was activated just before his start against the Diamondbacks on Saturday.
From the beginning, Cashner showed rust. He fell behind the first three hitters and threw 28 pitches alone in the opening inning.
In the first frame, Ender Inciarte led off with a liner to right that alluded Liriano and stretched into a double. Cliff Pennington followed with a single to right and drove in Inciatre for his ninth RBI. Then in the second, Lamb led off with a bomb over the right field fence for his first career home run.
As per the tradition, the Diamondbacks gave Lamb the silent treatment and the rookie third baseman was equal to the gesture, when he reached the dugout, by high-fiving the air. As Lamb started to walk down in the dugout, his teammates then responded with greetings.
“I was happy to get the first one out of the way,” Lamb said. “It’s been weighting on my mind. But, I’m just trying to hit the ball hard. At this point, it doesn’t matter if it’s an out, a hit. I just want to hit the ball hard.”
With a 2-for-4 night, Lamb raised his batting average from .190 at game-time Saturday to .217 (10-for-46).
After Lamb‘s home run in the second, Nuno took control until his fateful eighth inning.
The weekend set with the Padres ends Sunday.
The pitching match-up has righty Chase Anderson (7-5, 3.71 ERA) facing ex-Diamondback Ian Kennedy (9-11, 3.72).
Then, the Dodgers move in for a pair.
On Tuesday night, righty Trevor Cahill (3-8, 4.34 and five straight quality starts) takes on right-hander Roberto Hernandez (7-9, 3.78, combined with the Phillies and Dodgers).
A pair of Opening Day lefties highlight the Wednesday night game.
Wade Miley (7-9, 4.29) takes on Cy Young Award-favorite Clayton Kershaw (15-3, 1.82). To open the season, Kershaw defeated Miley, 3-1 on March 22 in Sydney, Australia.