SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Diamondbacks took the field to play the beautiful game of baseball for the first time this spring in a 5-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 2,100 actual fans at Salt River Fields on Sunday.
Zac Gallen, who has emerged as one of Arizona’s best starting pitchers, was on the hill for the D-backs and looked to continue the success he’s been having in his third season with this franchise.
In his first full season with the team in 2020, the Milkman had a 2.75 ERA, .210 opponent batting average and 82 strikeouts in 12 starts. But that was then.
After striking out Rockies centerfielder Ramiel Tapia in the first at-bat, Gallen seemed to struggle a bit with his location as the next two batters drew full-count walks, including former D-back Chris Owings.
He then got designated hitter C.J. Cron to fly out to right in the following at-bat. The D-backs elected to roll the inning since Gallen had reached the 20-pitch minimum to do so in a spring training game, a new rule that was implemented this year.
When asked about it after the game, Gallen admitted he didn’t know the rule was real.
“I didn’t know that was a thing this year, so when I heard roll it I thought it was a joke,” he said. “I think it was good though because it got me to get my second up to get out there for the inning, so it was fine.”
In the second, it was more of the same from Gallen. He effortlessly got the first batter of the inning to pop out to first baseman Pavin Smith, but he then gave up a pair of singles to first baseman Josh Fuentes and centerfielder Garrett Hampson.
Gallen was able to finish the inning and get the final two outs without allowing a run to score, something he has excelled at in his short career.
“I felt OK,” said Gallen on his performance after the game. “You know me, I’m the perfectionist. I want everything to be midseason form on February 28th.”
“But just small things to work through. The delivery felt a little bit off, but talking to Carson the action and the shape on the pitches were good,” he added. “Just probably something along the lines of just changing my sights, my aiming point basically is what it was.”
The 25-year old righty set the MLB record with 23 games allowing three or fewer earned runs in each start to begin his career, quickly making him the D-backs’ most reliable starter since being acquired from the Miami Marlins in 2019.
“Zac looked fine, it was what we expected,” noted manager Torey Lovullo after the game. “I think he was working on some secondary stuff. Some of the down fastballs early in the two innings were very, very effective. And then they got a little stubborn.”
Gallen’s first appearance of the spring ended after two-ish scoreless innings pitched. He allowed two hits and two walks with one strikeout and no runs. He threw 47 pitches, 29 for strikes.
Offensively, center fielder Trayce Thompson put the D-backs’ first run of the day on the board with a booming solo home run in the third inning. The Freight Train was also already on the tracks, as left fielder David Peralta followed that up in the same inning with an RBI double for the team’s only runs.
Lovullo did have a special message for the fans after seeing them in attendance for the first time since the 2019 season: “It was so nice to walk out of our tunnel and onto the field and see some fans out there and hear their support.”
“It was that special feeling that we all get every time we walk on the field that we missed last year,” he added. “So, from me to them and from our organization to them, I just want to say thank you. We loved hearing you out there today, and we will look forward to seeing you throughout the rest of the spring and then throughout the rest of our season.”
In another new rule this year, spring training games are scheduled to go seven innings through March 13 but can be between five and nine innings based on the discretion of the teams. The D-backs and Rockies agreed to play eight innings in this game.
The D-backs will face off against the Milwaukee Brewers in game No. 2 of spring training, with Merrill Kelly listed as the probable starter. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. and can be seen online.
Kelly was 3-2 in 2020 with a 2.59 ERA and 29 strikeouts in five starts. His season was cut short due to a blood clot that developed in his pitching shoulder.