There were no fans in the Chase Field stands Tuesday night, but if there had been, the D-backs would have given them plenty to cheer about during their 7-0 win over the Rangers, their first shutout victory of the season.
With the D-backs eliminated from the postseason race, the focus is now on 2021. So, here’s what three of the top performances from Tuesday mean looking toward next year.
In his past four appearances (all in relief), Riley Smith has allowed one run over 14 1/3 innings. This was his second straight appearance in which he tossed five frames.
The outings have done more than save the D-backs' bullpen. They’ve also made an impression on Arizona's front office and coaching staff heading into 2021.
“He continues to execute a great game plan,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “He continues to say the right things, do the right things, present himself as somebody who is learning day by day, piece by piece and trusts in the coaching that he’s getting. It’s translating into some really solid outings.”
After walking five in a 3 1/3-inning stint against the Dodgers on Sept. 10, Smith has focused on throwing strikes. He hasn't walked a batter since, and on Tuesday, he threw 47 of his 59 pitches for strikes.
“I just consistently try to get out there and throw strikes, fill up the zone, get outs quick and let them hit it,” Smith said.
2. Caleb Smith settles in
It looked like it might be a disastrous night for left-hander Caleb Smith when he walked the first three batters of the game. He quickly settled in, though, retiring three straight to escape the jam and allowing only one hit before leaving after four innings having reached his pitch limit (78).
“Obviously, we did several things right,” Lovullo said. “It started with, I think, Caleb in the first inning. He had trouble finding his rhythm, threw a couple of pitches that got him locked back in, got a popout with no outs and the [two] strikeouts. I felt like that set a great tone for us.”
Catcher Carson Kelly said Smith had been locked in during his pregame bullpen session, but that he got a little off track when he missed with his first few pitches. Once he landed a couple curveballs in the zone, that seemed to correct the issue.
Smith was acquired from the Marlins as part of the deal that sent outfielder Starling Marte to Miami at the Trade Deadline, and the D-backs see him in the mix for a spot in the 2021 rotation. He made only one start this season for the Marlins, as he went on the injured list due to a positive COVID-19 test, so he was still working on building up his arm strength at the time of the trade.
3. Kelly wants to finish strong
This has not been the year that Kelly or the D-backs expected after the catcher impressed in 2019. Acquired from the Cardinals in the Paul Goldschmidt trade in December 2018, Kelly showed potential at the plate last year before getting a bit worn down in September.
This year, it’s been a grind for Kelly, who said it's "extremely important" to him to finish the season strong. On Tuesday, he hit a three-run home run to cap a four-run sixth inning for Arizona.
“In this game, we’re always trying to learn and always trying to grow," Kelly said. "You know you’re going to have those ups and downs. It was a pretty big down. To see those results over the last week or so, trust in my process and believe in myself, things are on the rise. I’m just excited to finish this year strong and take it into this offseason.”
The D-backs are still high on Kelly and see him as the future behind the plate, which is one of the reasons Daulton Varsho, the club's No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is getting an extended look in center field.
“I think there’s been some growing pains, I’ll categorize it that way,” Lovullo said of Kelly. “We know that when he’s a comfortable, confident player, he can do special things. We are certainly encouraged by the progress that he’s made. Hopefully, he feels good about where he’s at as well.”