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The Diamondbacks were never going to make it through a full season with only the starting pitchers on their Opening Day roster, but Zach Davies straining his oblique in his second start of the year means their depth will be tested especially early in 2023.
While the team has yet to make any official roster moves, Lovullo said in his postgame presser on Saturday that Davies will miss “weeks.” The Diamondbacks will need another starter to replace him. As of his postgame presser on Saturday night, Lovullo was unsure whom that person will be.
“We had an open forum in my office just now,” he said. “We were throwing everything that we possibly could against the wall.
“I don’t know the answers. We got a lot of good options, though. We got some fantastic options.”
With four promising young pitchers having competed for one rotation spot in spring training — including Drey Jameson, Ryne Nelson, Tommy Henry and Brandon Pfaadt — it is easy to see where Lovullo is coming from. The Diamondbacks arguably have more starting rotation depth than they’ve ever had throughout Lovullo’s tenure in Arizona.
Out of that group, Nelson opened the year in the D-backs’ rotation, Jameson made the team as a reliever and both Henry and Pfaadt were sent down to start for Triple-A Reno. The latter three could all be options to take Davies’ spot.
Let’s take a look at the reasons for and against each of them.
Option No. 1: Drey Jameson
The most likely option to take Davies’ spot appears to be Jameson, who is already on the active roster and, according to Lovullo, is still stretched out enough to be inserted into the starting rotation.
“There’s a model that we’re following,” Lovullo said before Saturday’s game, “and we’re still within the framework of being able to, in case somebody goes down, put him into the rotation.”
The chance of Jameson becoming a starter again seemed to have decreased in recent days, as his outings got shorter and closer together. After throwing 66 pitches in his first appearance of the year on March 31, Jameson threw 38 pitches on three days rest on April 4 and 26 pitches on two days rest in his most recent outing on April 7.
After Saturday’s game, Lovullo said that Jameson’s name is “on the table” to replace the injured Davies, and that the window for switching Jameson back to a starter is “tight.” It appears that, if he is going to join the rotation in 2023, this is the time to do so.
Nonetheless, moving Jameson to the rotation comes with a cost. He has been excellent in several high-leverage situations out of the bullpen, tallying a 2.16 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and .172 opponent batting average in 8.1 innings, including a six-out save on April 4. With Jameson in the rotation, shutting the door in close games could get much more difficult.
Should the D-backs opt to move Jameson into the rotation, it stands to reason they would want to replace him with another pitcher who provide some length. Peter Solomon was the runner-up for that role out of spring training and could be an option.
It is also worth noting that, while Jameson is believed to be stretched out enough to re-enter the rotation, it would take several appearances of increasing length before he could take on a full starter’s workload.
The Diamondbacks have an off-day on Thursday, which means they won’t need a replacement starter for Davies until April 18 against the St. Louis Cardinals. On paper, Jameson could work up his pitch count out of the bullpen until then.
Option No. 2: Tommy Henry
Of the pitchers who are already on the 40-man roster, the other clear option to replace Davies is Tommy Henry, who has more big-league experience than anyone else on this list.
In nine starts in the majors last year, Henry went 3-4 with a 5.36 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and .263/.348/.475 opposing slash line in 47 innings. Those numbers aren’t great, but Henry had a few solid outings and was, of course, still getting acclimated to the league.
In two starts in hitter-friendly Triple-A Reno in 2023, Henry has been just okay, tallying a 7.20 ERA and 1.80 WHIP over 10 innings with six walks and seven strikeouts.
The case for using Henry in Davies’ spot is two-fold. First, Henry would allow the Diamondbacks to keep Jameson in the bullpen, should they decide that he is too valuable there to move him elsewhere. Second, promoting Henry would allow the D-backs to keep Pfaadt in Triple A, should they believe that he needs more seasoning before his big-league debut.
Although Henry made his last start on April 7 — one day before Davies made his — the D-backs, once again, don’t need a starter until April 18. Henry is lined up to make his next start for Reno on April 12, which would make it feasible for him to start again on the 18th.
If the D-backs do opt to go this route, expect them to call up an extra bullpen arm — Justin Martinez comes to mind — in the meantime.
Option No. 3: Brandon Pfaadt
If this decision were made on spring training stats alone, Brandon Pfaadt would be the clear winner. In four appearances in the Cactus League, Pfaadt had a 3.75 ERA and good peripherals, compared to a 5.51 ERA for Henry and a 7.53 mark for Jameson. Pfaadt also had significantly better numbers than his peers in Triple-A Reno last year.
Nonetheless, Pfaadt has gotten off to a shaky start in Reno this year, allowing five runs, including four homers, in 3.2 innings in his first start on April 2. He bounced back nicely in his second start, allowing just one run on two hits over 4.2 innings. While Pfaadt’s 6.48 ERA through two starts is far from pristine, he still has 12 strikeouts compared to just two walks.
Pfaadt’s second start came last night on April 8, which means that his schedule is perfectly aligned with that of Davies. The D-backs could easily plug Pfaadt directly into Davies’ spot, which would set him up to start on April 14 in Miami against the Marlins.
Ultimately, whether the D-backs choose Pfaadt probably has less to do with convenience and more to do with (1) whether they want to keep Jameson in the bullpen and (2) whether they think he is more ready for the opportunity than Henry, who has already made nine big-league starts.
It is also worth noting that, should the D-backs call up Pfaadt on April 14, he would no longer be able to reach the requisite 172 days on the active roster that is necessary to accrue a full year of service time, barring a first or second-place finish in rookie of the year voting, per MLB’s new service time manipulation rules. If getting an extra year of team control over Pfaadt was at all a factor in the team’s decision to send him down to open the year, calling him up on April 14 would not deter that plan.
Whatever the Diamondbacks decide, they will not necessarily reveal it immediately. Expect to see the team call up an extra reliever in the meantime.
Top photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic
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