Taxed D-backs turn to catcher Murphy to pitch

After 3rd subpar start, Arizona relies on backstop to eat innings in loss

March 31st, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- Cody Bellinger lifted a routine fly ball to right field to end the seventh inning and leave the bases loaded. Then, the Dodgers outfielder crossed paths with the D-backs pitcher walking off the field.

“What pitch was that?” Bellinger asked.

“Fastball,” John Ryan Murphy replied.

That Murphy, one of three catchers on Arizona's roster, was pitching in the seventh inning of the third game of the season is telling of the way things have gone on the mound for the D-backs, who fell, 18-5, to the Dodgers on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.

On Opening Day, the D-backs allowed eight homers with starter Zack Greinke lasting only 3 2/3 innings.

Robbie Ray went five innings Friday night, but the game went 13, forcing the D-backs to use every reliever in their bullpen to pull out a win.

Then, Saturday’s starter Zack Godley pitched 5 1/3 innings. D-backs manager Torey Lovullo went to long man Matt Koch, who had thrown 62 pitches in relief Thursday, and he was hit hard in lasting just two-thirds of an inning.

“It’s got to get better,” Lovullo said of the starting pitching. “There’s no other way to look at it. I think we depend on the starters. They know that. They’ve embraced that challenge. And they just have gotten off to a slow start. That sets the tone for you. That sets the tone for the game. We just haven’t quite hit our stride on the mound. But it’s early. I know these guys have been tested. They’ve done it before. Obviously, the concern is minimal right now. But it’s something that needs to improve.”

Murphy, who had not pitched since high school, did the best he could to eat up the two innings, throwing 54 pitches mostly in the 55-60 mph range.

His high point was wiggling out of a bases-loaded jam during a scoreless seventh.

“I got out of that, that was great,” Murphy said. “I walked the first guy I faced, which is not good, and kind of got a feel for how hard to throw it and started throwing more strikes and got out of that one. But that seemed to time me up for the second inning.”

However, the Dodgers plated seven runs in the eighth, thanks to a pair of homers, one of which came from Bellinger.

“My mentality was to try and throw every pitch for a strike and let them put it in play and hope they popped it up or grounded it out,” Murphy said. “I got six outs in the big leagues. That was my job, and I got it done. Unfortunately, I gave up some runs, but my job was to get the outs so a pitcher didn’t have to come in, and that’s what I did.”

The D-backs have to hope that Sunday’s starter, Luke Weaver, will pitch deep into the game in his Arizona debut to give the bullpen a rest.

Lovullo said he did not anticipate the D-backs needing to make a roster move to bring up a fresh arm before Sunday.

“We have a couple of backup plans, contingencies, that we’re working through right now, but I think the bullpen will be rested, minus a couple of guys that are very obvious,” Lovullo said. “And it will be time for everybody to step up tomorrow.”

And it begins with the starters.