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The Good, the Not-bad and the Ugly from last night’s Diamondbacks’ pitching

It may not have been a competitive contest, but it was an interesting one.

Houston Astros v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Diamondbacks used three pitchers in last night’s 8-0 blowout loss to the Houston Astros: Kris Medlen, T.J. McFarland and position player Daniel Descalso, who recorded the final two outs, making his third appearance for Arizona (and fourth overall) on the mound. Each of these were, to varying degrees, the kind that had me scurrying to the record books. Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Kris Medlen: 4 IP, 9 H, 7 ER, 4 BB, 4 SO

Medlen’s future is at this point uncertain: he did very little to suggest he deserves another shot, being largely unable to throw strikes, and proving easy fodder for an admittedly tough top of the Astros order. If he is one and done, he’ll become the fourth Arizona pitcher whose entire career with the team consisted of a single start:

  • Shane Reynolds, 2004. Reynolds’ outing was even briefer than Medlen’s, lasting only two innings. But he got no help from his defense, as an error by Tim Olson led to five unearned runs in the second. Reynolds had just come off the DL, and went right back on it with a torn knee cartilage, and never pitched in the majors again.
  • Jarrod Parker, 2011. Parker’s only appearance for Arizona came in the penultimate game, as a stand-in while we got our rotation sorted for the playoffs. It went very well: he threw 5.2 shutout innings of four-hit ball, with one walk and one K, but got a no-decision in a 7-6 win. That winter, he was part of the Trevor Cahill trade with the A’s.
  • David Holmberg, 2013. At 22 years, 39 days, Holmberg became the 4th youngest starting pitcher to debut for Arizona. It was a late-season audition, but he lasted only 3.2 innings, being tagged for six hits and three walks without a strikeout. Holmberg was sent to the Rays in December, to sweeten them taking on Heath Bell.

What about quality? Allowing seven or more earned runs in your only start for a season is perhaps more common than you’d think. Since the D-backs began in 1998, there have been 22 such pitchers including Medlen. These include some well-known names, such as R.A. Dickey, Chan Ho Park and Tyson Ross. Quite a number were worse than Medlen too, either allowing more runs or lasting fewer innings. He was positively Cy Young in quality compared to the worst of all time: Jeremy Guthrie’s horrific blow-up for Washington last April. Guthrie couldn’t even escape the first inning, allowing TEN earned runs on six hits and for walks. He wrote about the experience when he retired later that season.

T.J. McFarland: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO

We’re not even one-fifth of the way into the season, and McFarland has already worked three outings of at least four innings. He only needs one more to match the franchise record for marathon relief outings like that: you won’t be surprised to hear that was by Josh Collmenter, who had four in 2013. Zeke Spruill - a name you’ve probably forgotten - also had three for Arizona, in 2014. Collmenter is the career leader in such games, having had seven over his time here, and was stellar in them, posting a 1.42 ERA over 31.2 innings and even picking up a pair of wins. McFarland hasn’t been bad either, with a 2.08 ERA in his 13 frames to date. I suspect more may be in his future.

Daniel Descalso: 0.2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO

Just as Mark Grace’s presence, pitching at the end of a drubbing by LA, elevated the mood of fans and players alike, so this game will be remembered for Descalso’s fourth career perfect outing. He has now thrown three innings, and retired all nine batters faced - last night’s appearance included his first strikeout, on three pitches [We’ll casually omit that it was the opposing pitcher, who bravely didn’t take the bat off his shoulder!] Descalso should guard that, because no pitcher since George Gick for the White Sox in 1937-38 has had a career of three innings without allowing a hit or a walk - and Gick hit a batter in his final outing, so Daniel is ahead of him there.

Two other pitchers merit consideration, though they both date from so far back that details of their performances are incomplete. Al Braithwood in 1915, for the Pittsburgh Rebels of the Federal League, and Ed Taylor of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1903, both had three-inning careers without allowing a hit or walk. However, the latter is recorded as facing 12 batters, so it’s likely some reached base. We can therefore tentatively suggest that Descalso is the only player in the near-century and a half history of the AL/NL to have thrown at least three innings and retired every batter faced.

And that, folks, is why we watch baseball. Because even in the teeth of the ugliest loss of the season, we got to see something special, and a little bit of history being made by a Diamondback.