Lovullo embracing competition for roster roles

March 10th, 2018

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The D-backs whittled their roster down Saturday, getting a little closer to the final look. Though they've got some heated battles for spots -- particularly in the bullpen -- this round of eight cuts didn't include any big surprises.

Right-handed pitcher and left-handed pitcher were optioned to Triple-A Reno, while righties Ryan Atkinson, Taylor Clarke, and were reassigned to Minor League camp along with left-handed pitcher Yuhei Nakaushiro, infielder Kevin Cron, and catcher Michael Perez.

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"Obviously eight less in camp now," manager Torey Lovullo said before Saturday's game with the Royals. "Everybody took it well, and they understand that this is the situation and we're moving forward quickly. We're starting to drill down to our team and make some key decisions as to who stays and who goes."

Putting the 2018 D-backs together may mean answering more questions about the roles players will take on the roster, rather than simply who will make the roster. Lovullo seems to have a fairly good idea of the makeup of his starting position players and key reserves, but the bullpen is rife with questions about who will make it and who will take what roles.

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"It's going to be very competitive," Lovullo said of the fight for spots in the relief corps. "We're going to have some tough decisions to make, we know that. That's a credit to the players that have been brought in here. A couple holdover players from last year. Everybody knows from me telling them directly that they're competing for spots."

Perhaps the biggest spring battle is for the closer's role, where there's a three-way race unfolding between , Brad Boxberger, and .

"We haven't defined any of those roles yet," Lovullo said. "We know that there's locked down solid candidates that are going to be in our bullpen, but there are some openings, and they're still open."

Other pitchers in the "locked down solid" category would likely include and , leaving , T.J. McFarland, , and competing for two or three other spots in the bullpen, depending on how many pitchers the D-backs carry.

Suarez piggy-backed on 's start against the Royals Saturday, keeping himself stretched out and ready to start, and giving the D-backs a potentially versatile pitcher who could jump from the bullpen to the rotation, if needed. Of his 119 games pitched in the Minors, 113 were starts, though he has started only 12 of his 40 big league games.

Lovullo is inclined to make the decisions relatively early, giving players a chance to settle into their roles and begin to function as a cohesive unit.

"We don't want to make decisions on the final day," Lovullo said, noting that he and general manager Mike Hazen worked out an approach in Lovullo's first year managing in 2017.

"We want to have things in place a couple days before that. But that's our strategy -- that's what we'd like to do. We know sometimes decisions need as much time as possible. We'll try and make as many decisions as possible, so guys can start to define and understand their roles. But it's going to be competitive. We might change that approach this year to give guys as much time as possible."

While the Cactus League games and stats may be relatively meaningless from a player evaluation standpoint, the need to respond to the pressure of competing for a spot on a big league roster provides Lovullo a valuable insight into a player's makeup that the manager relishes witnessing.

"That's the part of Spring Training that I love," Lovullo said. "That these guys know [the stakes are] there, and to understand what comes with that. How are they going to respond to that? How are they going to slow it down enough to go out and execute?"