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5 takeaways from Diamondbacks' pivotal series win over San Diego Padres

Jesse Friedman Avatar
August 19, 2023
Diamondbacks reliever Justin Martinez greets catcher Gabriel Moreno as the D-backs wrap up a series win over the San Diego Padres.

SAN DIEGO — When Diamondbacks catcher Gabriel Moreno lofted an elevated Nick Martinez changeup down the left-field line on Saturday night, there was not a doubt in his mind where it was headed.

He knew he had time to admire it. He knew he had just hit his first career grand slam.

“It was hard to describe,” Moreno said via interpreter Rolando Valles. “I was super happy. I was breaking smiles as I was running around the bases.”

The dinger more than doubled the Diamondbacks’ lead from 4-1 to 8-1 in the nightcap of Saturday’s day-night doubleheader. It was also Moreno’s second homer of the series; his solo shot in Thursday’s game helped the team on its way to a 3-1 win.

For Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, Moreno’s grand slam on Saturday night had special significance — and not just because it was a grand slam.

“It was a collective exhale,” Lovullo said. “We’ve been grinding out some very close games. I think our guys are conditioned to execute under those circumstances. But an 8-1 game … it was a sigh of relief.”

The D-backs went on to win the game by that same score, finalizing a series victory over the Padres.

For the Diamondbacks, winning by a comfortable margin had become a foreign idea. Their 8-1 rout of the Padres on Saturday night was their first win by more than four runs — and their first time leading by seven or more runs in a game — since June 19.

In addition to Moreno’s first career grand slam, Saturday night’s seven-run victory featured another first: Bryce Jarvis’ first career win.

After getting through the Padres’ lineup exactly once, opener Scott McGough gave way to Jarvis with one out in the third. Jarvis lasted 3 ⅔ innings, allowing only one run on two hits.

“The key to this whole game was [Jarvis],” Lovullo said. “He just went out there and executed pitch after pitch after pitch. He pushed into a part of the game where we could maneuver with some of the pieces that we wanted to.”

With a win in the nightcap, a doubleheader sweep and a three-of-four series victory, the D-backs now sit just 0.5 games back of the third NL Wild Card spot. The Padres, meanwhile, dropped to 5.5 back.

There was no shortage of drama over the weekend. Here are some things we learned in San Diego.

1. Lady Luck favored the Diamondbacks

For as convincing as the Diamondbacks’ 8-1 shellacking of the Padres on Saturday night might have been, the D-backs actually had a lower expected batting average (.309) than the Padres (.331) in the game. (Expected batting average, or xBA, uses launch angles and exit velocities to estimate the likelihood of each batted ball dropping for a hit.)

By no means does that mean that the Padres should have won — it is not that simple — but suffice it to say that the Padres made significantly more hard contact in Saturday’s nightcap than the box score would lead you to believe. Based on xBA, the Padres were expected to have 10 hits in their 30 at-bats. Instead, they had five.

Over the course of a 162-game season, each team has its days where the ball does not fall their way. Even so, it is not often that a team has a higher xBA than the opponent in every game of a four-game set and loses the series anyway. That is precisely what happened to the Padres this weekend.

San Diego’s unluckiness was particularly difficult to ignore in Thursday’s game, when the Padres had 15 batted balls with exit velocities higher than 95 mph — 12 of which were liners or fly balls — but managed only three hits. After the game, even the D-backs were well aware.

“Lady Luck was on our side today,” Lovullo said following Thursday’s game. “Some at-’em balls were hit. I’ll take it. We’re going to enjoy it and just move on.”

Zac Gallen started the game for the Diamondbacks. Against him, Padres hitters amassed an average exit velocity of 97.3 mph, the second-highest Gallen has allowed in his major league career.

Gallen, who managed to allow only one run in 6 1/3 innings, acknowledged some degree of luck after the game, although he was happy to accept it.

“You check the box score the next day,” Gallen said, “they never say you gave up an out that was 900 mph [off the bat]. Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good really. My job is to get outs how ever they come. It’s fine by me.”

While we’re here, we should also note the way that Saturday afternoon’s game ended. With the bases loaded, two outs and the D-backs up 6-4, Juan Soto hit a laser to left-center field.

D-backs closer Paul Sewald opted to keep his eyes on his catcher and let the reaction of the crowd reveal the outcome.

Soto came within a few feet of a walk-off grand slam, but the ball found the glove of D-backs left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr just in front of the fence. According to Statcast, that batted ball would have left the yard in exactly one out of the 30 MLB ballparks, that being Wrigley Field.

2. Brandon Pfaadt keeps rolling

After logging a 9.82 ERA in his first six starts, Diamondbacks pitching prospect Brandon Pfaadt has flipped the script with a 3.50 ERA in six starts since returning to the majors on July 22.

On Friday, Pfaadt took it to another level.

“He did an unbelievable job,” Lovullo said after the game. “Takes a no-hitter into the seventh. That’s when I start to get a little nervous pitch count wise. That’s when I start to ask [pitching coach Brent Strom] how far can we take him.”

Ultimately, a no-hitter was not in the cards — Soto broke it up with a one-out double in the seventh — but Thursday’s outing was arguably the best of Pfaadt’s major league career.

Although Padres hitters amassed 10 batted balls with exit velocities of 90 mph or higher, six of them had launch angles of 30 degrees or more. That means they were often getting too far underneath the ball to do damage.

When Pfaadt is at his best, the lazy fly balls is a fixture of his game. His four-seamer has enough carry to get bats underneath it, and his sweeper has surprisingly little vertical drop, causing hitters to swing underneath it instead of over the top, as would be expected for a traditional slider.

Unfortunately for Pfaadt, the first scoreless outing of his career still did not lead to his first major league win. The D-backs were unable to get a run on the board all game on Friday, and Miguel Castro allowed four runs in the eighth that proved to be the difference in the game.

Nonetheless, Pfaadt is a crucial piece to the puzzle down the stretch as the D-backs chase the playoffs. His resurgence is an enormous development for a team that has had only two clearly above-average starting pitchers all year.

3. Justin Martinez pitched like a backend reliever

With Sewald and Kevin Ginkel unavailable on Thursday, the D-backs needed other bullpen arms to step up to protect a 3-1 lead. Enter Kyle Nelson — who followed Gallen by getting a pair of big outs in both the seventh and eighth innings — and Justin Martinez, who was recalled from Triple-A Reno that morning.

Martinez, 22, made his major league debut in July, and posted an unsightly 18.90 ERA and 3.90 WHIP in four appearances in his first taste of the majors.

On Thursday, his manager called on him to get the four most important outs of the game — facing the heart of the Padres’ lineup. He did just that, notching his first career save in the process.

Martinez said that he feels more comfortable in the majors now after making some adjustments in Reno.

“It was mainly my mental approach to pitching,” Martinez said via team interpreter. “The way I slow my emotions on the mound. I’m doing breathing exercises, the way I prepare. I anticipate the possible situations in the games.”

After an impressive 2022 season that saw Martinez pitch in three minor league levels as well as the Arizona Fall League, there have been few questions about his stuff. His fastball regularly exceeds 100 mph, and his low-90s splitter grades out as an even better pitch. He also mixes in a slider to round out the arsenal.

The question for Martinez moving forward is whether he will be able to throw enough strikes. There were some shaky moments in his four-out save opportunity on Thursday — he issued walks to both Fernando Tatís Jr. and Xander Bogaerts in the ninth — but it is abundantly clear that his stuff plays when he commands it.

If he can find way a to hit the strike zone more, as he did in flashes over the weekend, he could be the team’s closer of the future.

4. Tommy Pham and Padres fans do not get along

Boos flooded former Padre Tommy Pham all weekend at Petco Park, but tensions reached another level in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader when Pham had an altercation with a fan while standing in the on-deck circle.

“Older white gentleman called me a piece of s–––,” Pham said. “I don’t think that’s acceptable, especially when you’re so close to the on-deck circle.”

Pham also described an incident with a woman outside the team hotel.

“She was drunk. ‘F you, Tommy Pham, that’s why we got rid of you.’ I’m like, ‘Lady, I reached free agency. They didn’t get rid of me. In fact, they tried to re-sign me in free agency.'”

The on-deck circle incident was discussed widely on social media on Saturday. One post on X came from Patrick Dailey, who came out in defense of the individual who was said to have hurled the inappropriate comments at Pham.

Pham responded late Saturday night.

Regardless of what happened at Petco Park on Saturday, Pham’s history as an intense competitor is well-documented. Last May, he slapped San Francisco Giants outfielder Joc Pederson in the face over what was later determined to be a dispute over a fantasy football league.

In the D-backs’ clubhouse, Pham’s fiery personality seems to be appreciated.

“He definitely cares,” Diamondbacks pitcher Merrill Kelly said. “He cares about his craft. He’s always on the iPads looking at his swing, breaking down his swing mechanics, talking to guys about it. He definitely wants to win. He cares about baseball, he cares about doing his job. I think it’s good for this team, with the point that we’re at, a little infusion of that intensity is a good thing.”

Said Lovullo: “[Pham] is bringing a type of preparation and focus and intensity to this team that I haven’t seen in a while. Not that our team lacked it, he just has taken it to a new level, and I think guys are paying attention to what he’s doing every single day.”

5. San Diego has hurricanes?

If you are one of the many Arizonans every year who plan summer getaways to beach towns like San Diego, I have bad news…

In reality, the path taken by Hurricane Hilary is extraordinarily rare. According to the National Weather Service, the last tropical storm to make landfall in the area happened in 1939.

Nonetheless, Hilary is expected to make landfall in Southern California on Sunday, and Major League Baseball rescheduled Sunday’s series finale into a Saturday split doubleheader as a result. No game at Petco Park has been rained out since May 7, 2017.

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo is a Southern California native, and can attest to the rarity of major storms striking the area.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of rain here at different points in time of my life, but nothing like this. I’ve never heard the word ‘hurricane’ on the Pacific coast, ever, since I’ve been born.”

Given how unfamiliar local residents are with storms of this magnitude, Lovullo suspected that Southern Californians might not be well-prepared.

“I married a Buffalonian,” Lovullo said. “When they see a storm coming, they get out the flashlights and the candles five days early. They know what’s happening. The Californians don’t do that.

“I’m expecting that they’re going to get hammered and start to react. Hopefully, this town can withstand it. I know, in talking to a lot of family and friends, they’re preparing for it.”

The Diamondbacks flew out following Saturday night’s win and will have an off-day Sunday.

By all accounts, their road trip to San Diego was a raving success. On Monday, they start a new challenge: a two-game series with the Texas Rangers, who have the second-best run differential and the fifth-best record in all of baseball.

Follow Jesse Friedman on X

Top photo: Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports

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