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Diamondbacks 0, Dodgers 6: A Tale of Two Nelsons

Ryne = good; Kyle = terrible.

Milwaukee Brewers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Record: 66-74. Pace: 76-86. Change on 2021: +21.

Ryne Nelson’s second outing in the major leagues was, if anything, even more impressive than his debut last Monday against the Padres. He faced a stacked Dodgers’ line-up with no fear, going after them from the first pitch. The result? Six more shutout innings, allowing only two hits and two walks, with six strikeouts. But - and stop me if you’ve heard this particular sad song before - it was all in vain, courtesy of the Diamondbacks bullpen. His Nelson namesake, Kyle, came in to start the seventh, leaving three batters later with the bases loaded. Kevin Ginkel allowed the all to score and Keynan Middleton dropped the cherry on top of the cake, giving up a three-run homer in the ninth to Mookie Betts.

I remember talking at the start of the season about how the D-backs pitching was performing unusually, in that the rotation had a far smaller ERA than the bullpen. Their numbers had largely evened themselves out by the All-Star break (starters: 4.35 ERA; bullpen 4.33 ERA). But the second half has seen the pattern resumed, in part due to stellar work from Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly and, now, Ryne Nelson. After tonight’s start, in 48 second-half games our rotation has an ERA of 3.56. But the bullpen has bloated their ERA with tonight’s poor performance to 5.35, easily the worst in the National League since the break - nobody else is even at five. The starting pitching deserves a lot better.

Tonight was the 20th time a Diamondback starting pitcher has gone at least six innings while allowing no runs to score. That’s pretty good. In fact, only the Astros have more such starts, getting their 21st one today. Coincidentally, Tyler Anderson also gave the Dodgers their 20th start of 6+ innings, no runs allowed. The difference appears when you look at the team results in those games. Los Angeles is 19-1 over the 20 ace-level games, their only loss coming on July 3 vs. San Diego. Tonight, however, is Arizona’s seventh loss under such circumstances. More broadly, coming into today, in 406 such starts, teams have an .852 W%. Arizona are over two hundred points worse, at .650.

None of which should be considered as taking anything away from Ryne Nelson. Since Kenta Maeda at the beginning of 2016, only one pitcher has started their career off with consecutive starts going six or more innings of shutout ball. Jordan Yamamoto did it for the Marlins in June 2019. According to the broadcast, Nelson also set a new franchise record for starter scoreless innings to begin a career, surpassing Micah Owings’s record of 11. I think it may also be the Arizona record for any pitcher, beating the 12.2 innings mark posted in relief by Clay Zavada in 2009, and Jimmie/James Sherfy in 2017-18. We’ll see if Nelson can stretch in next start, probably Saturday against the Padres, presuming we’re back to a 5-man rotation.

Tonight, he retired 11 of the first 12 LA hitters to come up, the exception being former D-back Trayce Thompson, who singled with one out in the third. Will Smith walked with two outs in the fourth, but that was it through five frames, with Nelson’s velocity again notably higher than the figure for the Aces, getting up to 97 mph. We also saw the same pattern from Nelson as in his debut. When the gas-tank ran out, it did so quite quickly, with his velocity dropping to the 93-94 mph range, and his pitches no longer hitting their spots with the pinpoint precision we had seen. He fell behind the first two hitters in the sixth, but was able to retire Cody Bellinger and Betts, with some help from the outfield defence.

However, Trea Turner hammered a ball down the right-field line, which “stuck” in the corner, allowing Turner to reach third base. After falling behind 2-0 on Freddie Freeman, an intentional walk was issued, and Will Smith flew out to Alek Thomas in center for the final out. Hit the showers, young man. You’ve done your job. Just a shame the bullpen were unable to do theirs. The other Nelson has been terrible since his return - it feels almost as if all the talent of the man who had a 1.57 ERA through early August, was transferred from Kyle to Ryne. He couldn’t throw strikes - only five in fourteen pitches - and has now given up six walks and hit a batter in his last 2.2 innings.

Kevin Ginkel inherited the worst of all possible situations, coming in to a based-loaded, no outs jam in a scoreless game. He got the first out with a sacrifice fly that gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead, but teased the possibility of escaping without further damage. Cody Bellinger, despite batting below .200 for the season, had other ideas, bringing home the other two runners with a double into the right-center gap. Ginkel escaped further damage, and Caleb Smith worked a 1-2-3 eighth, before Middleton saw his season ERA inflate to 4.80, courtesy of Betts’s blast in the ninth. It was Arizona’s 35th relief loss of the year, giving them sole possession of the NL lead in this unwanted category.

You’ll notice I have not said a word about the Arizona offense. That’s because, as the score suggests, there is precious little to talk about. Five hits, with Ketel Marte’s double the only extra-base hit, and two walks. There were chances, the best being in the fourth, when Marte and Jake McCarthy singled, putting two on with nobody out. A pair of fly-balls and a strikeout ended that. The team also hit into three inning ending double-plays, two of them off the bat of Jordan Luplow, promoted from Reno just today. He had posted a 1.089 OPS there, but his post-game average of .160 is, by 24 points, the lowest in franchise history for any non-pitcher with 200+ PA with the D-backs. His .627 OPS is in the bottom ten. Greenland beckons.

Click for details at
Admiral Nelson: Ryne Nelson, +35.9%
Willie Nelson: Ketel Marte, +12.7%
Baby-Face Nelson: Kyle Nelson, -25.2%
Rickie Nelson: Luplow, -14.4%; Walker, -13.7%; Kelly, -12.2%; Ginkel, -12.0%

157 comments in the Gameday Thread, which isn’t bad considering this contest likely lived down to expectations, more or less. Just the one Sedona Red comment, which I can hardly argue with, although I suspect we’re all going to end up being disappointed.

Same two teams tomorrow, same start time, and should be another good pitching duel. Merrill Kelly starts for the Diamondbacks. and some guy called Clayton Kershaw for Los Angeles. His name sounds vaguely familiar, though I can’t quite place it. First pitch is 6:40 pm, and I’m going to go out on a limb here, and predict another bullpen loss for Arizona.