Arizona Diamondbacks pitching coach Matt Herges has asked his pitchers, from Madison Bumgarner in the 2020 opener to Luke Weaver on Monday, to determine the “why.”
The “what” has been the same for the first four starters so far: None of them are attacking the strike zone.
As a result, the D-backs bullpen has already been heavily used. Bumgarner went only 5.2 innings before he approached 100 pitches as Arizona refuses to put its starters’ health at risk. The rest of the Diamondbacks in four games have failed to pitch beyond 4.0 frames.
“I think it’s no mystery we haven’t thrown enough strikes,” Herges said on a Zoom call Tuesday, one day after the team fell to 1-3 and wrapped its opening series against the San Diego Padres. “We’ve walked 27 guys. We’ve given up 28 hits. That’s OK, 28 hits in a four-game set.
“But the 27 walks definitely has been the problem. The three-ball counts have been way high and just overall pitching away from the bat. That’s been the issue.”
Herges didn’t sugarcoat it. He said Bumgarner’s outing wasn’t good and that the competitive veteran survived by grinding it out.
None of the other starters fared any better. Only long reliever Taylor Clarke executed his gameplan, according to the pitching coach. Clarke went 3.2 innings with three strikeouts, two walks and no hits allowed in relief of Weaver in a 6-2 loss.
The theme between Bumgarner (5.2 IP, 3 ER), Weaver (3.1 IP, 6 ER), Robbie Ray (3.2 IP, 3 ER) and Zac Gallen (4.0 IP, 1 ER) is more mental than mechanical, Herges believes.
Meanwhile, some of MLB’s top starting pitchers have suffered serious setbacks as teams rushed to prepare for a 60-game, coronavirus-shortened schedule. The Texas Rangers’ Corey Kluber is out for at least a month due to a shoulder issue, while Houston Astros star Justin Verlander suffered a forearm injury.
Herges is just trying to manage a rough foursome of opening starts while also keeping in mind that the D-backs must be cautious about rushing them back from a start-and-stop offseason.
Heading into the fifth game of the year, the focus is on determining why the strikes remain elusive.
“Whether it’s trying to be too fine, whether it’s giving the hitters too much credit, I think both of those things for sure,” Herges said. “Ultimately, my message, our message as an organization is, bottom line, the best pitchers in the game throw more strikes than anybody else.”
Herges told all his pitchers to have the confidence to invite swings.
“‘Guys, your stuff plays. It’s legit.’ My question is: ‘Why are we missing off?’” he added. “Getting to the bottom of ‘why,’ that’s a process that we’re going through.”