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D-backs 5, Padres 0: Nelson aces test under Labor-atory conditions

Merely the best pitching debut in franchise history.

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Diego Padres Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Record: 65-69. Pace: 79-83. Change on 2021: +20.

There were no half-Nelsons to be found at Petco Park this afternoon, only the full variety. Ryne Nelson made his major-league debut, and it was one for the record books. He kept a tough Padres’ offense entirely in check, throwing seven scoreless inning to pick up a thoroughly well-deserved win. Stone Garrett homered and Christian Walker drove in a pair of runs, as Arizona improved to 9-2 over their last 11 games, and got a good jump on their attempt to win a fourth consecutive series.

The D-backs offense had an odd start. Lead-off man Carson Kelly walked and Josh Rojas worked the count full. He then struck out - as did our next four batters, Blake Snell delivering a harsh diet of sliders. It took seven Diamondbacks before anyone put a ball in play, Garrett doubling to right with two outs in the second. Alek Thomas followed with a double of his own to the left-center gap, and Arizona had an unexpected 1-0 lead, after five consecutive K's. In defense of the hitters, it can't have been easy for either offense in the early innings. The 3:40 pm start time left awkward shadows crossing the infield between the mound and home-plate. [The Petco lights came on before the fifth inning, even though it wasn't even 5 pm yet]

Major-league debutant Nelson was just as able to take advantage of that too. Though he was also heating up the radar gun, touching 98 mph, a good four or five mph harder than the figures we had expected to see. Was it the adrenaline of his debut, in front of 75+ family and friends at Petco? Regardless, after giving up a double to the first batter he faced, Nelson settled down admirably. He stranded that base-runner and retired San Diego in order for the second, third, fourth AND fifth innings, quickly and efficiently. He needed only 55 pitches to get to that point, striking out five, with his change-up looked particularly pretty, playing well off that 97 mph fastball.

However, the D-backs were struggling almost as much. After Thomas, Jake McCarthy became Arizona’s next base-runner, when he singled with two outs in the fourth, and stole second, his 13th of the season. He was stranded there though, as Garrett became Snell's eighth strikeout victim through four innings. Josh Rojas singled leading off the fifth, but Ketel Marte's wretched spell continued. He had struck out on three swinging strikes in the first, an AB Michael said was Marte's worst of the season, and emptied the bases with a double-play. Christian Walker followed with his third K of the game, allowing Snell to reach double digits; Emmanuel Rivera was also 0-for-3 with three strikeouts off Snell.

Meanwhile Nelson kept motoring, throwing strikes and keeping the ball down in the zone. He retired 17 batters in a row following the opening double, before the same batter, Jurickson Profar, doubled again, this time past a diving Walker. The runner took third as McCarthy booted the ball around in the corner. Fortunately, there were two outs and Juan Soto's fly-ball to center ended the sixth, with the D-backs still clinging to their 1-0 advantage. They were able to double that courtesy of Garrett's third home-run (above). While Nelson will, justifiably, get the lion's share of the plaudits for today's game, it's worth looking at what Stone has done to start his major-league career.

He has 14 hits through his first ten games in the majors, a number in franchise which trails only Mark Reynolds, who had 17. Garrett's triple-slash is .424/.424/.818 for a 1.242 OPS. The only higher OPSs through that point with a meaningful number of PAs were by Junior Spivey (1.290), Reynolds (1.380) and Carlos Quentin (1.554). Now, that's not going to sustain for ever, and the complete lack of any bases on balls (36 PA so far) is going to become an issue. But he wasn't even ranked as a top 30 prospect by just about anyone. Remember, he had all but given up on baseball in favor of real estate. Whatever may happen the rest of the way, it's one of the best stories of the season.

Back on the mound, despite a manageable pitch count, Ryne did seem to be running out of gas somewhat in the seventh. This perhaps gives credence to the adrenaline theory for his increased velocity earlier. The pitches that were painting the black were now missing the zone by some margin. The pitches in the zone were less competitive, and the Padres put the tying run on base with two outs, courtesy of a pair of singles. With his 87th and final pitch, Nelson coaxed a fly-ball to right, stranding the runners. The final line: seven innings pitched, no runs allowed on four hits and no walks, with seven strikeouts.

Only one other pitcher since 1901 has made a debut of 7+ scoreless innings, with at least seven Ks and no bases on balls [Nick Kingham for the Pirates in 2018] In terms of D-backs' debuts, the previous high Game Score was 72 by Archie Bradley in 2015 and Geraldo Guzman in 2000. Nelson today was a 76, if my math is correct, which would be tied for 12th-best start from any Arizona pitcher this season. Fun fact: it’s a higher Game Score than our $23 million man Madison Bumgarner has managed in any outing this year.

Though at 2-0, the game was not out of the woods yet. Walker took a large step towards solidifying that in the top of the eighth, singling home a pair of runs, after a Geraldo Perdomo double was followed by a Josh Rojas walk and stolen-base. Thomas delivered tacos in the ninth with his second RBI, scoring McCarthy with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly. Meanwhile, Kevin Ginkel pitched a 1-2-3 eighth in relief of Nelson, and for the second day in a row, Arizona had a chance at a 5-0 shutout. Unlike yesterday, Caleb Smith would not Melancon the shutout, giving us another perfect inning and closing out Arizona’s first shutout victory in San Diego since September 20th, 2019.

Click for details at
Tsar Peter the Great: Ryne Nelson, +45.3%
Rah, rah, Rasputin: Stone Garrett, +13.0%
Tsar Nicholas II: Ketel Marte, -13.0%

Almost three hundred comments on the Gameday Thread, and no wonder, with one of the most memorable debuts in franchise history. Comment of the thread to kilnborn for a statistical nugget to keep an eye on:

Only another five or so scoreless starts to go, Ryne! Perhaps more achievable might be the number of scoreless innings to start a career as a Diamondback. On a quick and dirty check, that seems to be 12.2, held jointly by James (the artist formerly known as Jimmie) Sherfy and Clay Zavada.

Same two teams tomorrow, with a more conventional start time of 6:40 pm. Merrill Kelly takes the mound for Arizona, in what should be another good pitching duel, going up against Joe Musgrove. I’ll be back on the recap pony for that one, but after this game, I can’t say I mind too much. Do not make a fool out of this contentment, Diamondbacks...