Entrusted with key roles, kids continue to shine

April 16th, 2023

MIAMI -- The D-backs are letting the kids play -- perhaps not completely willingly, but also out of necessity due to injuries.

made the team out of Spring Training, earning the fifth starter spot after the D-backs were impressed with his three starts late last year and his improvements over the offseason.

stepped into the primary catcher role after Carson Kelly fractured his right ulna during the spring.

And has made waves with his speed since his debut late last August. (It also helped that the former top prospect signed an eight-year contract extension in March.)

All three shone on Saturday in Arizona’s 3-2 loss to Miami at loanDepot park, though it was Nelson who perhaps stole the spotlight and who might have had the biggest impact.

After a 30-pitch first inning, in which Nelson eked out of a two-out bases-loaded jam by inducing a lineout, the 25-year-old recorded a nine-pitch second, an 11-pitch third and a nine-pitch fourth. He faced the minimum in each of those frames, in part thanks to two inning-ending double plays. 

“When they're flashing the leather out there, it makes it a lot easier to pitch,” Nelson said. “And I always have confidence in these guys. They make great plays all the time. So nothing new.”

Nelson issued no walks while providing six innings of one-run ball. That lone blemish came via Garrett Hampson’s solo homer in the fifth on an 84.8 mph cutter in the zone. But even that wasn’t born out of a mistake -- Hampson simply beat Nelson on a pitch that the righty was hoping would get a punchout.

“He had swung through a slider earlier in that at-bat,” Nelson said. “We were just trying to go back to it, and it wasn't getting him to bite. And then, 3-2 count, kind of have to throw something over the plate. I didn't think he got it all that well. But [if] it goes over the fence, it's a home run.”

Meanwhile, Carroll and Moreno came through big in the seventh. 

Carroll doubled to lead off the inning, and the threat of his baserunning -- he has six stolen bases this year -- induced veteran reliever Matt Barnes to balk, moving Carroll to third. 

Up stepped Moreno, who was 0-for-2 with two strikeouts against Marlins starter Braxton Garrett. The 22-year-old backstop roped a 92.5 mph four-seam fastball back up the middle past a diving Jon Berti at shortstop, driving in Carroll and giving the D-backs a 2-1 lead.

“Gabby Moreno, just getting thrust in there in the everyday role,” shortstop Nick Ahmed said pregame, “he wasn’t expected to be in that role right away to start the season. Obviously, the talent is there on both sides of the ball: Defensively, he's done a phenomenal job with the pitching staff, calling games and blocking balls and throwing runners out. 

“I know the offense isn't where he wants it to be yet, but there's been some glimpses of good at-bats from him as well. So he's been very impressive.”

For Nelson, there’s room to improve with his arsenal. The righty wants to focus on utilizing his offspeed pitches for strikes more often, as he has a tendency to fall back on his fastball (granted, it averages 94 mph and has accounted for eight of his 10 strikeouts this season).

Carroll is still settling in at the plate and on the bases, but he’s putting in the work. In Friday’s series-opening loss, the 22-year-old ran into an out at third in the top of the seventh.

“You can't run into an out,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said postgame Friday. “He knows; he was self-adjusting and basically, when he walked in the dugout, he knew he knew what he did. So I think he’ll learn from that mistake.”

“After the game, that was the first thing I was talking to [first-base coach Dave McKay] about,” Carroll said Saturday. “I felt pretty bad about making that out there. … What we've worked through is [that] in a situation like that, a five-run lead for the other team, just a change in my mindset from trying to be so aggressive to kind of thinking more station to station.”

As for Moreno, who is still getting his bearings, the improvements are already evident to his manager and his teammates. That RBI single in the seventh and an eight-pitch at-bat in the fifth were both proof that Moreno’s hitting is already evolving.

“He's a young hitter with young tendencies,” Lovullo said. “I think he's in swing mode. … I've watched his ability to survey the strike zone improve. And he just doesn't get nervous. I think he's got a very consistent approach, and he's gonna barrel a lot of baseballs.”