“Look,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo told his 25-year-old outfielder, “you could stay here and have a .640 OPS and hit eight home runs and have 32 RBIs. That’s not helping anybody.
“I think very highly of you, highly enough that you going down there and you can exceed those numbers and jump beyond them and double them. That’s my mindset.”
Those were the words that Lovullo said to outfielder Jake McCarthy on Monday night, as he explained the team’s decision to send McCarthy to Triple-A Reno.
With right-handed pitcher Drey Jameson being sent down on Monday and left-handed pitcher Madison Bumgarner designated for assignment on April 20, the Diamondbacks sent out three players in less than a week. They are not messing around.
“Internal competition is more robust here than we’ve ever had it,” general manager Mike Hazen said. “I don’t think that that’s saying that from, like, trying to put pressure on guys. It just is what it is.
“Pavin [Smith] lost a competition in spring training. Got sent down. Probably didn’t deserve to get sent down necessarily; he had a fine spring training. We sent him down. He went down there and hit, and he’s come up and been our best hitter. This is what good teams have. This is what good teams do.”
In 22 games, McCarthy slashed just .143/.229/.238 with three extra-base hits in 70 plate appearances. In six appearances, including three starts, Jameson went 2-1 with a 3.71 ERA, 1.53 WHIP and .782 opponent OPS. In four starts, Bumgarner went 0-3 with a 10.26 ERA and a 2.40 WHIP. Now, all three are off the big-league club — and, in Bumgarner’s case, out of the organization entirely.
To be clear, it is not atypical for teams to make several roster moves in late April. Last year around this time, the D-backs designated left-handed reliever Oliver Pérez for assignment, and optioned both right-hander Corbin Martin and — in similar fashion — McCarthy to Triple-A. Players who struggle early in the season and have minimal recent success in the big leagues often do not make it to May.
What the D-backs have done this year is different from past years, though. Moving on from Pérez in 2022 had no meaningful financial ramifications for the team. Moving on from Bumgarner meant walking away from more than $34 million. In light of Bumgarner’s poor performance, it is not hard to understand why that decision was made — and many analysts have argued that it should have happened sooner — but it was still gutsy to eat that much money just four starts into the season.
On top of that, in sending down Jameson and McCarthy, the D-backs moved on from two players who were among their best toward the end of the 2022 season — and it took less than four weeks to get there.
From July 11 of last year through the end of the season, McCarthy was one of the better outfielders in the National League, slashing .302/.361/.434. Jameson, meanwhile, had a sub-2.00 ERA in four starts last year and pitched well out of the bullpen to start 2023. He had a sparkling career ERA of 2.40 when he was demoted. In contrast, neither Martin nor McCarthy had much of any big-league track record when they were sent down last year.
“We’ve got good players in our system,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “They’re doing their job, and, if somebody here is not, we will jump on that.
“To me, it means we’re a good team that wants to be competitive and expects to go out there and win every single night.”
Despite facing one of the most difficult schedules in the sport to date, the D-backs are off to a promising 14-12 start in 2023. Hazen has said multiple times that where they sit in the standings has had some impact on the roster moves they have made so far, as has the quality of players available in the minors.
The D-backs called up infielder Emmanuel Rivera to replace McCarthy and left-hander Tommy Henry to replace Jameson, although Henry actually took Bumgarner’s rotation spot, not Jameson’s. With several off-days around the corner, the D-backs are sticking with a four-man rotation for now. It is unclear how long they plan to do so, but they will need a fifth starter by May 9 to keep from using a starter on short rest.
As for McCarthy, the D-backs are hoping that, with consistent playing time in Reno, he will be able rediscover the offensive approach that made him so good in the second half last year.
“He was into his chipping B-swing,” Lovullo said. “Baseball is a reaction sport. I think Jake was just trying to make contact rather than finishing his swing, and I think he had a little length post-contact.”
“It’s been a month,” Hazen added about the timing of the move. “I felt like we had kept pushing this back. We kept saying, alright, let’s keep working at it, the light is going to come on and we’re going to get to this spot. We just weren’t getting there.
“He was doing some little things that were obviously really good, he does a lot of good things. But this guy is a way better hitter than what we saw.”
The team could have opted to let McCarthy work out his struggles in the big leagues, but, combined with the higher stakes that come with playoff aspirations, Hazen and Lovullo decided that McCarthy would be best served in the minors, where he can make the necessary adjustments, get consistent reps and reestablish his rhythm.
The team reached the same conclusion with Jameson, who was demoted following an ugly start on Sunday that saw him throw 43 pitches in just one inning of work against the San Diego Padres.
Of particular concern was the fact that 34 of those 43 pitches were fastballs. He threw his signature slider just six times. Five were called balls, and the other turned into a sacrifice fly for Jake Cronenworth.
“He needs to land his secondary stuff more consistently,” Hazen said. “He became one-dimensional the other day just throwing fastballs. He’s done that and we know he can do it. We just got put in a little bit of a tough spot with the one-inning outing. He’s got to be more of a pitcher. He was too much of a thrower the other day. He’s got to be more of a pitcher. He has that in him. He knows how to do it. We saw that last year. When he attacks and he dominates with all of his pitches, he is a force. We need to get that back.”
In his final two starts combined, Jameson allowed five runs over 4.2 innings with seven walks and four strikeouts. It was a significant turnaround from his first four appearances of the season, which saw him post a 1.46 ERA in 12.1 innings.
It took only two bad outings for the D-backs to make a move.
“These are hard pills for young players to swallow,” Lovullo said. “All they want to do is get here and learn and continue to pitch here. I get that. But we are a very competitive team. We’ve got a lot of competitive understudies and we felt like the best thing for Drey at this point in time would be to go down, get his timing, get his rhythm and find his stuff.”
In addition to trying to get Jameson back to the pitcher he was late last year and early this year, the D-backs are also hoping to foster a healthy degree of internal competition, something that has arguably been lacking in recent years.
“Complacency sucks,” Lovullo said. “There’s no place for it on this team or in this organization.”