'Prideful' D-backs have plenty to play for
NL West's last-place club relishes role as spoiler, seeks to evaluate talent
PHOENIX -- The D-backs know the score.
They know their record and their standing in the NL West, just like everybody else does.
Sure, they are in the midst of a challenging 16-game stretch against the titans of the division – the Dodgers, Giants and Padres -- and next month won’t get any easier. Everybody knows that, too.
But D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said his team still has several things to play for this season and he wants that to be known, as well.
“One, we want to win as many games as possible,” the manager said. “Two, evaluations. We're going to put these guys out into some situations and allow them to perform and show us what they can do. And look, we can play the role of a spoiler.”
The Giants topped the D-backs 11-8 in extra innings on Monday night. It marked Arizona’s 74th loss of the season, but more importantly, it gave the D-backs another chance to assess Taylor Widener, who is looking to secure a spot in the rotation, and provide Lovullo’s club an opportunity to bounce back from a 13-0 rout by the Dodgers on Sunday.
Ultimately, the D-backs walked into the clubhouse after the defeat with a lot to mull over.
First, Widener retired six of the first seven batters he faced -- four via strikeout -- using a steady mix of four-seamers, sliders and changeups. Then, he ran into trouble in the third inning when he gave up a single to Donovan Solano to start the frame and one out later, Mike Yastrzemski smashed a two-run home run to right field on a fastball in the middle of the strike zone to give the Giants a 2-0 lead.
Widener then failed to cover first when the next hitter, Kris Bryant, followed with a ground ball to first baseman Christian Walker. The right-hander escaped the inning by retiring the next two hitters, but the damage -- or was it a learning lesson? -- had been delivered.
Widener’s education continued in the fifth inning. He gave up consecutive one-out walks to Yastrzemski and Bryant. Brandon Crawford followed with a single to load the bases to end Widener’s night. His replacement, J.B. Bukauskas, walked in a run to extend the Giants’ lead to 3-1. The next hitter, Alex Dickerson, followed with a grand slam to make it 7-1.
In the end, Widener, who spent a month on the injured list earlier this season with a right groin strain, was charged with five runs on five hits in 4 1/3 innings and failed to pitch at least five innings for the fourth consecutive start. He struck out seven and walked three.
“It's definitely a step forward from last week,” Widener said. “I’ve still got some stuff to work on. I'm trying to clean up some things. I'm feeling better, and I’ve just got to keep doing what I'm doing and just keep improving each week and get back to where I was.”
The D-backs still have a chance to play the spoiler.
After the current stretch against the division foes, the D-backs wrap up the month with another series against the Padres. September also includes six games against the Dodgers and three more against the Giants. So far this season, the D-backs are 1-10 against the Giants, 2-11 against the Dodgers and 3-6 against the Padres.
“That's kind of the excitement of our season is playing our best baseball for the remainder of the year, especially against some of the teams that are chasing wins inside of our division and they want to go out and do special things,” Lovullo said. “We have a chance to disrupt that. We’re very prideful here. We want to go do our job at the highest level, knowing that we're in a very rugged division. Three teams are banging away at the top. To me, there's no better arena for us to evaluate and for us to get our best work in.”
The D-backs rallied after trailing for most of the game. Josh Reddick and Asdrúbal Cabrera each hit two-run home runs in the bottom of the fifth to cut the deficit to 7-5. They tied the game at 8 with three runs in the seventh.
“Our record isn’t even close to where we want it to be,” Lovullo said. “When you block that out every night at 6:40 to give me the effort that they have, I couldn’t be more pleased. We’ve had a lot of losses on both sides of the spectrum, big losses by way of score, and some really tough losses that came in games that I feel like we should have won, or were in control of, and didn’t win. Yet every day these guys come back with a refreshed mindset and attitude that today is going to be the day we start something moving in the right direction.”