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Diamondbacks notes: Christian Walker on HR Derby; Brent Strom on Zac Gallen's first half; my All-Star ballot
The Diamondbacks finished the first half of the season on a high note Tuesday with a 6-2 win over the Giants. After 81 games, they are 37-44 and on pace for 74 wins (just one shy of the 75-win prediction I made back in April.)
After finishing with 52 wins last year, a 22-game improvement would be a big lift for the franchise. Unsurprisingly, manager Torey Lovullo stressed the need for his players to stay focused on what’s in front of them and continue to improve.
“I don’t want these guys to get complacent and say we’ve had a first half that we’re satisfied with,” Lovullo said before Tuesday’s game. “I like excellence. I like greatness. That’s what I want these guys to strive for.”
Lovullo said that players are improving but still have a long way to go. He noted the importance of building trust with his players as they continue to heed the advice of their coaches.
“When a player knows you care and you trust, they’re going to listen to you,” Lovullo said.
That quote may capture Lovullo’s player-centric philosophy better than any.
Christian Walker talks Home Run Derby
Christian Walker told Jose Romero of the Arizona Republic last week that he would be interested in participating in the Home Run Derby if invited. I asked him a few more questions on the topic.
A narrative has floated around the game for years that players can mess up their swings by participating in the event. Walker said he isn’t concerned.
“Obviously you don’t want anything like that to happen,” Walker said. “But, I mean, it’s just one day of hitting. I feel like you can…flush it.”
The Home Run Derby is certainly unlike any other day of the season, but Walker said there are some similarities between that and his everyday pregame routine.
“I hit batting practice most days anyway,” he said. “I’m not trying to hit homers in [batting practice], but I’m always trying to hit the ball in the air.”
The fact that the derby is taking place at Dodger Stadium certainly doesn’t hurt. Walker is slashing .314/.377/.729 in his career at Chavez Ravine, and he has more homers in that ballpark (nine) than any other MLB stadium outside of Chase Field.
“I know the ball flies,” Walker said. “It’s a good place to hit.”
Dodger Stadium certainly isn’t known around the game as a hitter-friendly ballpark, and Walker acknowledged that his success there may be more happenstance than anything else. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop him from briefly comparing it to Coors Field.
“It’s similar to a place like Colorado where you feel like, if you just put the barrel on it, you’re going to get rewarded. So maybe you’re not trying as hard. Intensity is toned down a little bit.”
Walker certainly has a strong case for selection. He is currently tied for third in the National League in homers, trailing only the Phillies’ Kyle Schwarber and the Mets’ Pete Alonso.
The fact that Walker may not crack the All-Star game roster could prove to be an obstacle in getting an invite, but making the All-Star squad is not a requirement to participate in the derby.
Last year, three of the eight participants were not All-Stars: Alonso, Trevor Story and Trey Mancini. Tallying a total of 74 homers on the evening, Alonso won.
Brent Strom on Zac Gallen’s first half
Pitching coach Brent Strom has said multiple times that some of his former colleagues with the Houston Astros thought he should be fired if Diamondbacks ace Zac Gallen doesn’t win a Cy Young award during his tenure.
While Gallen’s 3.40 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and .207 opponent batting average are nothing to sneeze at, Strom made it clear Gallen is better than his first-half performance would indicate.
“It [was] above-average,” Strom said. “I don’t think [he is] where he thinks he should or where I think he should be.”
Strom said Gallen has had a tendency to throw well for four or five innings at a time and then get tagged with a crooked number. Eliminating those big innings will be key for his success moving forward.
“This guy is an elite starting pitcher, and I think he will show that in the second half,” Strom said. “He’s a special cat for me. He really is.”
Strom said Gallen has been working on his slider, and he expects the D-backs’ righty to throw it more in the second half. I wrote about Gallen’s arsenal, including that pitch, back in February.
My All-Star Ballot
With the All-Star game less than two weeks away, it is time I shared my ballot with you all.
To be clear, these are my selections for the first round of voting, not the second round that is happening now. Per usual, the wide range of MLB market sizes has already left its mark on the vote, and several candidates who deserve to start have already been removed from the ballot for the second round.
No Diamondbacks position player made my ballot, but Daulton Varsho is closer than you might think in the outfield race.
Following his recent hot streak, Varsho is now batting .247/.305/.435 and is sixth in the National League in fWAR, trailing only Betts, Nimmo, Happ, Jeff McNeil and Kyle Schwarber.