PHOENIX — Diamondbacks starting pitcher Zac Gallen struck out eight and gave up one earned run to the Oakland Athletics in his 2021 debut.
Even with that, and even after the Arizona offense on Tuesday complemented Gallen’s start with a 5-0 lead through three frames, it wasn’t enough.
The D-backs bullpen allowed four runs in the seventh inning to tie it and one in each of the final two innings as the A’s won 7-5 to complete a two-game series sweep at Chase Field.
“Of course we’re going to go over and evaluate this game and figure out where we can get better,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said of his team’s relief effort. “It’s still a raw moment for me, I’m still a little bit frustrated. But I know everybody who threw today is going to learn from it.”
Arizona fell to 4-8 on the year and heads into an off-day Wednesday before hitting the road.
If anything is going for the D-backs at this point after a day where the offense was fading and the bullpen slipping up combined to thwart such a strong start to a game, it’s the return of the pitcher who already looks like the team’s best starter.
“You can play six or seven really good innings and you blink and make some mistakes, good teams are going to make you pay,” Lovullo said. “Super unfortunate the way the game ended but was glad to have Zac Gallen back out there.”
Three weeks after an evaluation found a hairline fracture in Gallen’s right arm, the Arizona starter allowed damage totaling one home run in his debut that lasted 4.0 innings.
Gallen, on a pitch count having not played in a game since a March 17 spring outing, threw 83 pitches. He allowed three hits, walked two but struck out eight A’s.
He took a few innings to get his knuckle curveball out of the dirt. But that was fair given it’s the only pitch in his arsenal that he felt any pain in when he first began noticing what turned out to be a forearm fracture.
Gallen got that location back quickly Tuesday. Otherwise, any rust looked already knocked off.
“I think the biggest change was my at-bats, having to worry about that as opposed to, you know, sitting in the dugout when it’s your time to pitch — so just being mindful of that,” he said.
“I felt like everything, my delivery, stuff like that felt pretty good. Things were starting to work the last week or so. Some of the stuff wasn’t as sharp as I wanted it to be — curveball — but I think that will come in time. That’s probably the most rusty considering I haven’t thrown it in about two weeks, but everything else was fairly where I thought it was going to be.”
Gallen also didn’t take any swings Tuesday, though he did successfully lay down a bunt and then scooted to reach base on his first at-bat of the year.
Early on, the entirety of the Diamondbacks’ offense looked impressive against Oakland starter Jesus Luzardo.
D-backs third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera led off the second inning with a single, and outfielder David Peralta walked with one out before catcher Carson Kelly took Luzardo’s 1-2 curveball to deep left field for a three-run shot to open up the scoring.
Kole Calhoun and Eduardo Escobar singled to begin the third, and Cabrera doubled to score Calhoun. Escobar scored on a groundout by Peralta to give Arizona the 5-0 padding.
But the seventh inning bit the D-backs.
Reliever Taylor Clarke was tagged with three earned runs against him, two of which came on a three-run homer by Jed Lowrie, who jumped on a low fastball from the next Arizona reliever, Kevin Ginkel.
In the next frame, the D-backs’ Anthony Swarzak got taken deep to right field by A’s first baseman Seth Brown to break a 5-5 tie. Matt Chapman’s triple off the D-backs’ Yoan Lopez with a runner on base in the top of the ninth added the seventh run.
All that left a bitter taste for Arizona after Gallen’s promising first start of the year.
Even before the loss, Lovullo provided an honest assessment of his current bullpen group, one that’s young and one that the Diamondbacks have little choice but to ride with. The losses of expected relief contributors Tyler Clippard, Chris Devenski and Joakim Soria have caught up with the D-backs at various moments so far this year.
“The bullpen I feel like at times has been an area of strength and at times I feel like they’ve created some different situations that we’re not accustomed to,” Lovullo said earlier Tuesday. “We’ve had three positive role receivers get banged up or they’re missing time for different reasons. … There’s some youth down there.
“I know that they’re going to get opportunities, especially some of the younger guys … and I know in time we’re going to see some guys emerge. Really that’s kind of the word I can use when we’re talking about our bullpen.”
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