The original plan was to have Robbie Ray, who has been stellar against the Los Angeles Dodgers this season, go up against them in the opener of the National League Division Series tomorrow night. But Zack Greinke’s short outing yesterday, and the subsequent use of Robbie Ray to work 2.1 innings of relief, threw a spanner in the works there. The team had three options: Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin and Zack Godley, and Torey Lovullo and the D-backs this afternoon announced that it will indeed be Walker who will take the mound for Arizona. Said Lovullo:
“It's something we've been thinking about pretty much the entire time. We just want to check a few extra boxes and make sure. We're excited about it. He's throwing the ball well against the Dodgers and he's going to be ready for the challenge.”
Taijuan faced the Dodgers three times this season, and the results were generally good. He won both of his starts in Chavez Ravine, allowing one run over five innings on April 16, and one run in six frames on September 6. The Diamondbacks won both games by a 3-1 margin. He also faced them at Chase Field on April 21, and got a no-decision, allowing four runs in 5.2 innings, though the D-backs won that contest as well, 13-5. Overall, that’s six earned runs allowed over 16.2 innings over work by Walker this year, a 3.24 ERA.
Of course, as we saw in the wild-card games, the post-season is no respecter of regular season talent, as Walker is aware: “I think that was the biggest [lesson] I've learned, watching Jon Gray and even Severino from the Yankees, we're all young pitchers, first time throwing in the postseason. I think the biggest thing is controlling our emotions and taking it one pitch at a time. I think you can't go out there and let the adrenaline really get to you. You have to take a deep breath every pitch and really focus on each pitch.” Walker suggested he might ask Greinke for help: “You can see him on the mound, he doesn't really show too many emotions, and I think he's really good at that.”
It’s looking like Ray will start the second game, with Greinke following in Game 3 - that would set Ray up for Game 5 as well, if the series ends up going that far. According to Nick Piecoro on Twitter, “Ray says today feels like the day after throwing a bullpen. Says he's good to go for Game 2.” Lovullo was a bit more cautious: “We want him to walk into the throwing program today and tomorrow and just see where he's at. So we haven't quite determined the Game 2 starter, but we're going to drill down to that as quickly as we possibly can. So we'll keep that as TBA right now.. He's been an elite pitcher all year long, so we're certainly leaning in the direction of putting Robbie out there as quickly as possible. But we're going to make sure he's okay first.”
Yet to be decided is which of the remaining two starting pitchers (Corbin and Godley) will shift to the bullpen, and which would be used in any Game 4 of the series. Also uncertain is whether Jake Lamb will start against Clayton Kershaw, whom he has never faced. Said Lovullo: “It's a tough decision. You're walking off a game where you get four hits and you're right in the middle of everything versus lefties and righties, it just didn't matter. One of our main performers and offensive catalysts all year... There are two sides to the track that I'm working through right now. You know, it's going to be a tough decision. That's why I'm the manager, right?”
Rather you than me, Torey!