Entering this game, how they play against the lesser competition around the league represented one of the overarching questions for the 2023 D-Backs. While it’s obviously still very early in the season, the D-Backs have not performed quite to expectations: dropping two out of three against the Marlins and then splitting one-run games with these Royals. If the D-Backs want to win a tough NL West, let alone return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017, they need to take advantage of these games against weaker teams. I say that with all due respect as someone who had to watch the bumbling 2021 D-Backs and saw plenty of better teams take advantage of their depauperate roster.
Through the first three innings of this rubber match, you would be hard-pressed to believe that the D-Backs had just been deposed from leading the NL West while the Royals had won all of six of their first 24 games (a 120-loss pace). If you’re a fan of pitching and strikeouts, then wowee was today a fun one for you! The two teams combined for 22 strikeouts, only eleven hits, and a paltry three walks (with two HBPs). There were exactly two hits with runners in scoring position throughout the game by the two teams, both by the D-Backs, that proved to be the difference in the game.
Gallen opened the game with a comebacker from Bobby Witt Jr, but then saw Vinnie Pasquantino and MJ Melendez spray mistakes into the left-center and right-center gap respectively to perfectly set up the Royals with runners at first and third with one out. Edward Olivares swung through an excellent Gallen changeup for the second out and Michael Massey also struckout. Jose Herrera didn’t get the handle on the third strike at first, he was able to clean up the play to end the inning and protect Gallen’s scoreless streak.
Ketel Marte, newly placed into the leadoff spot, got on base the hard way by taking a pitch off the tuchus, but was stranded there as Emmanuel Rivera, Lourdes Gurriel Jr, and Christian Walker all deposited fly balls into a fielder’s glove. On the flip side, Gallen cleaned up his act by dispatching Kyle Isbel, Freddy Fermin, and Nicky Lopez in order in the second. Ryan Yarbrough nearly followed suit as Evan Longoria struck out ahead of a scorching hot Corbin Carroll who singled into left. While his teammate Gallen was continuing his scoreless streak, Carroll had solidly built a streak of his own this season: a perfect 10-10 on stolen bases, but that ended today as he was finally caught with an excellent throw from Fermin that still barely beat him.
After sleepwalking their way through the first three innings, the D-Backs bats finally woke up in the fourth as Emmanuel Rivera and Gurriel Jr leadoff the inning with back-to-back singles. Of course, a scuffling Walker battled but grounded into a double play to jeopardize an excellent scoring opportunity. Fortunately for the snakes, Longoria came up with another clutch hit by looping a broken bat single into left field to plate the first run of the game and made it 1-0 D-Backs. Carroll worked a walk for himself, but both he and Longoria were stranded as Nick Ahmed harmlessly popped up in the infield to end the threat and inning.
Amir Garrett came on in relief of Yarbrough to open the fifth. The veteran lefty pitched effectively (4.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB), but not very efficiently as he threw nearly 80 pitches to get through those four innings. Fortunately for the D-Backs, Garrett struggled to find the strike zone as he immediately walked Alek Thomas on four pitches. Herrera put down an excellent bunt to move Thomas over to second to set up an RBI opportunity for Marte who instead struck out on a slider in the middle of the plate. Rivera, just called up from Reno, then stepped to the plate and confidently poked a fastball up the middle to score Thomas and give us our final score of 2-0 D-Backs.
Gallen finally yielded to the bullpen in the seventh after pushing his scoreless streak to an impressive 28 innings – even if he’s quite a ways from matching his own streak of 44.1 he set last year. It definitely seemed to me that even though he didn’t have his A+ game, he was still able to strike out a dirty dozen and had the Royals’ batters guessing at the plate. In his postgame interview, Gallen himself admitted that he didn’t feel great and didn’t have a good feel for his fastball – saying that it wasn’t “explosive.” Regardless, he pitched another gem and continues to be the D-Backs ace in the early going. Scott McGough was the first reliever out of the pen and quickly cleaned up the lone runner that Gallen left before departing.
Following McGough’s cleanup effort in the seventh, Miguel Castro came on to open the eighth and looked in control outside of a lone, solid single from Witt Jr. Andrew Chafin, looking for redemption from his blown save on Monday, instead looked very shaky in the ninth. He quickly walked Melendez, but then induced a groundball right at Ahmed who clearly wanted to make the game more interesting by whiffing on the ball to put the first two runners on in the inning. Chafin battled pinch-hitter Matt Duffy, but managed to get a flyout to shallow right that failed to move the runners up ahead of pinch-hitter Franmil Reyes who tattooed the first pitch into Thomas’ glove and then struckout Fermin to end the high-wire act, the game, and the series.
On a macro-level, it was encouraging to see Gallen work through a lack of command in the middle of a game and showed exactly the kind of potential the D-Backs saw in him when they traded Jazz Chisholm Jr for him back in 2019. If this team has any playoff aspirations at all, they will need him to continue developing and maturing as he as to this point. I was also glad to see this club finish off a team they have every right to beat, albeit by the skin of their teeth. On to Colorado!