He doesn’t light up the radar gun or pound the strike zone with overpowering movement, but Zac Gallen is excited by what he’s learned on the mound this year as he’s battled back from injuries.
The 26-year-old right-hander is finding his way through his first full season with the D-backs. Though the results haven’t been overwhelmingly positive, with a 4.44 ERA through 20 starts, Gallen has flashed signs of growth in his last handful of outings.
Gallen logged a solid 5 1/3 innings, but Arizona had its two-game winning streak snapped by Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers in a 5-1 loss in the series opener at Dodger Stadium on Monday.
“Since [starting in] Colorado [on Aug. 21], even some starts before that, I felt pretty close to where I was at [last year]," said Gallen. "But I don't feel too far off. I think the positive of going through this adversity, I've just learned more about different pitches, where that feeling is.”
Gallen settled down with four scoreless frames after he surrendered three runs in the first inning against Los Angeles, efficient as he picked up four strikeouts.
"He muscled his way through 5 1/3 and almost pitched through the sixth inning and had a quality start,” said manager Torey Lovullo. “We got to take a look at the things that need to be worked on. He is not very far off from getting [back to last year's form].”
Although the club had its winning streak halted, Gallen maintained a streak of his own, now having limited opposing teams to four runs or fewer in six consecutive starts while also pitching at least five innings.
"I was just trying to stay in attack mode,” Gallen said. “They came out swinging in the first inning. [They] put some decent swings on pitches. After that I knew the first two innings I was at close to 50 pitches, I was just trying to get deep in the game, just trying to stay in attack mode.”
Though the four earned runs he surrendered gave the Dodgers the advantage in the game, one of the biggest plays of the night worked in his favor to keep his streak alive. In the fourth inning, with one out and Mookie Betts at the plate, Gallen’s fastball on the inside part of the strike zone was smacked to right field.
Right fielder Jake McCarthy had his eyes on the slow-moving fly ball as his feet kept shuffling while Gavin Lux waited at third base to tag up when the second out was made. McCarthy’s throw at the plate took a single bounce en route to catcher Carson Kelly, making for an especially close play at home.
Lux was called safe by home plate umpire Alan Porter, but the D-backs, confident that Kelly’s tag was applied before Lux’s foot touched the plate, challenged the ruling.
"[McCarthy's] already thrown out a couple runners at home plate, so I knew that catch and release was not going to be a problem. I was just worried about the accuracy,” Lovullo said. “That's the beauty of instant replay. The umpires do an unbelievable job. The game moves really fast and I'm sure it was a 50/50 call and obviously, it went our way. ... And not to be undersold was Carson's tag -- he placed a really, really fast tag after picking up that ball.”
The D-backs’ offense, however, was unable to come up with the same timely hits that helped them over the weekend against Seattle to nab their first road series win since April.
Of the team’s six hits, only one was able to push a run across. Josh Rojas, who went 2-for-4, plated Arizona’s lone run in the first inning with a line drive to center field to bring in Ketel Marte. The run was aided by Cody Bellinger airmailing the throw back into the infield, allowing Rojas to move to second.
Arizona went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, while leaving eight runners on base. The D-backs have now lost 16 of Gallen’s 20 starts, and his record fell to 2-10.
"I was unaware of that,” Lovullo said of Arizona’s lack of wins in Gallen’s outings. “I know that he expects to win every game that he pitches. I'm sure that he would be extremely upset with that statistic if you showed it to him. We've got to be better in a lot of areas. We haven't had a very good record against the [National League] West, I think that's also something that needs to be looked at. We've got to win baseball games and play good baseball, that's the bottom line. We're going to find our way there."