While the youth movement within the position players on the 2023 D-Backs has (rightfully) gotten plenty of attention and press, the club has quietly built up an impressive set of pitching prospects alongside them. That build-up was on full display on Wednesday afternoon in Arlington – in both the best and worst ways – as Brandon Pfaadt made his major league debut. Pfaadt (pronounced like fought – as in, “I Fought the Law”) represents the highest of the pitching prospects the D-Backs have cultivated to go along with several of the highly-touted pitchers that have already debuted this season. He also represents one of the best opportunities for baseball writers to make puns out of a player’s name in quite some time.
Unfortunately, despite those lofty expectations, Pfaadt often looked like a pitcher making his debut. He failed to author a single clean inning across his line and frequently missed his locations, which the Rangers were all too willing to take advantage of when he did. In all fairness, the front office did him few favors by having him debut against a high-powered offense that ranks in the top five of AL teams in several categories – including runs, homers, and batting average. On top of that, both teams put on an absolute home run clinic Wednesday afternoon – combining for an astounding total of 8 roundtrips.
The D-Backs immediately threatened to put Pfaadt in the lead in the top of the first as a leadoff Ketel Marte walk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr single put runners at the corner with just one out. But a Christian Walker strikeout and Evan Longoria groundout extinguished the threat and bring Pfaadt up to officially make his debut. An understandably jittery Pfaadt got two quick outs with a Marcus Semien groundout and Travis Jankowski lineout. Even though he did give up his first career walk to Nathaniel Lowe, he bounced back by quickly dispatching Adolis Garcia – no easy feat – with a long flyout to Alek Thomas to put up a zero in his first career inning.
After the D-Backs went down in order in the top of the second, Pfaadt got right back into rhythm by earning his first strikeout against his fellow talented rookie in Josh Jung. Unfortunately, Pfaadt quickly got another first out of the way by giving up his first home run as Jonah Heim crushed a hanging changeup 418 feet into the right field bleachers to quickly make it 1-0 Rangers. Disclaimer: if you’re a fan of home runs, get used to reading that phrase in this recap. The very next batter, Ezequiel Duran, rocketed a pitch out to right that very well should have been a single were it not for an excellent diving catch from newly called-up Dominic Fletcher who has shown some impressive mettle thus far. Leody Taveras singled after that but was erased with an absolute dart of a throw from Jose Herrera who was spelling Gabriel Moreno for the day when Taveras tried to steal second.
Not to be outshone on a beautiful, sunny Texas afternoon, the D-Backs swiftly responded with walks from Herrera and Gurriel Jr sandwiched around a weak Marte flyout and Emmanuel Rivera strikeout to send Christian Walker to the plate. And boy, oh boy did he not disappoint! After working the count full, he snuck a line drive just over the left field wall to put the D-Backs into the lead 3-1. Pfaadt got yet another first by entering an inning with the lead and managed to work around a Marcus Semien single to put up a zero and keep the D-Backs’ momentum intact.
Andrew Heaney, one of the mid-tier Rangers’ signings this offseason, managed to match his much younger counterpart by mowing down the D-Backs in order in top of the fourth. While Pfaadt managed to get through the lineup once mostly clean, the second time was a little rougher. After striking out Jung the first time Pfaadt faced him, he was not quite so lucky the second time as Jung crushed a slider that stayed in the middle of the plate to make it 3-2 D-Backs. He managed to limit the damage to just the solo homerun, but it portended some less-than-stellar results later in the game.
Meanwhile, the D-Backs offense struck again – once more starting with a leadoff walk – this time from Herrera ahead of the streaking Ketel Marte who powered an outside changeup straight to centerfield to add some insurance and made it 5-2 D-Backs. Even better, just two batters later, Walker stepped back up to the plate and powered a high fastball to dead center that just snuck by Leody Taveras’ glove and made it 6-2 D-Backs. That pitch ended up being Heaney’s last and his final line (4.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 4 BB, 5 K) would not particularly inspire much confidence considering the financial commitment wrapped up in his signing. Josh Sborz retired Longoria on a single pitch, but it still felt like the D-Backs had taken control of the game and you had to be feeling pretty good at the time.
Dear Reader, I hope you hold onto that good feeling. It didn’t last long. The fifth inning was where the wheels well and truly came off for Pfaadt. Taveras took another Pfaadt changeup deep to bring the Rangers a run closer at 6-3 D-Backs. Not content to just homer their way through the game, the Rangers strung together a Sandy Leon double into the gap, a Jankowski double that looped into left field, a Lowe single, a sac fly to center from Garcia, and a no-doubter to the second deck from Jung. When the dust settled, Pfaadt was out of the game for Jose Ruiz and the Rangers led 7-6. It was a true ambush and completely flipped the game on its head. I’ve often heard that ending a start on a poor note is much worse than beginning on one so here’s hoping Pfaadt can shake it off for his next start.
The teams traded zeroes in the sixth, but as soon as Corbin “The Barrell” Carroll was inserted into the lineup, the energy seemed to change and once again reflects the kind of leadership he can provide as a 22-year-old. Just like the Rangers, the D-Backs built themselves an impressive inning with a Carroll single, Marte walk, Rivera single, back-to-back walks from Gurriel Jr and Walker, a Rojas sac fly, a Fletcher single, and a Perdomo double. When it was all said and done, the D-Backs had exploded for a five-run inning and retaken the lead 11-7. From there, the D-Backs bullpen, which has been shaky in the early going, put together one of their best performances as they allowed just five baserunners over the last 4.1 innings to shut the door.
Even though his final line (4.2 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) is not very pretty, Pfaadt showed an impressive maturity by bouncing back multiple times after making a mistake to a batter and flashed the potential that has excited this front office and plenty of other evaluators. And in the macro sense, I’d prefer to see Pfaadt take his lumps now to set himself up for success next year and the years beyond rather than just focusing on the results of this year. For now, we just have to hope that he demonstrated enough to the front office to keep him at the major league level rather than sending him back down for further seasoning – at least for one more start. At this point, I am not convinced there is much for him to learn at Reno and he should be given the opportunity to improve at the highest level instead.