Following stellar postseason, Pfaadt aims to take leap

February 21st, 2024

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- faced hitters for the first time this spring in a live batting practice session on Tuesday, the next step in building on his strong finish to 2023 that has him entrenched in the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation.

“You always want to take the next step, and that’s the goal this year and this Spring Training,” Pfaadt said. “We’re getting there.”

Pfaadt made his presence felt as the third option behind Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly in Arizona's run to the World Series a year ago, putting up a 3.27 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 22 innings over five postseason starts.

The Diamondbacks point to Pfaadt’s outing in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series at home against the Phillies as perhaps the pivotal start in the run to the World Series against the Rangers.

With Arizona trailing Philadelphia two games to none, Pfaadt pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings while striking out nine batters and only giving up two hits.

“We’re down and he gave us a great start, which kind of got us off the schneid,” pitching coach Brent Strom said.

Pfaadt was the Diamondbacks’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2022 when he struck out 218 batters across 167 total innings. The right-hander was 3-9 with a 5.72 ERA in 19 Major League appearances last season, but markedly improved after a midseason stint in Triple-A Reno.

"He had some trust in what we talked about,” Strom said, “and it showed itself in the biggest time of the season. He started to mix his pitches a little bit better.

“This guy is a very even-keel type pitcher. He didn’t let the troubles he had last year really defeat him. I think he knew he was good. I believe in Brandon Pfaadt. He believes in himself a great deal."

Pfaadt's arsenal featured five pitches last year, but primarily relies on his four-seam fastball (45.2% usage rate) and sweeper (27%).

“He has a full arsenal,” Strom said. “He has great control. But it is more than just eye-popping, ‘oh wow’ kind of stuff. This is a complete guy. He has a very slow heartbeat when he pitches. He has a good idea of what he is doing. I think he started mixing his pitches a little bit better.”

Pfaadt figures to slot third or fourth in the rotation, depending where manager Torey Lovullo wants to place left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who signed a four-year deal with Arizona this past offseason.

"Our execution was a lot better than the middle of the season, and that’s where we are trying to stay," Pfaadt said. "We’re trying to stay consistent and go out there every fifth day with that consistent stuff and go deeper into games.”

Gallen, Kelly's first start dates revealed

Gallen and Kelly, the respective No. 1 and No. 2 starters in the Diamondbacks' rotation, are scheduled to make their Cactus League debuts a week apart, Lovullo said. Gallen is to make his initial start against the Reds in a night game on March 1 in Goodyear, Ariz., while Kelly is expected to make his first appearance on March 8 against the Cubs at Salt River Fields.

“Obviously the buildup is of maximum concern -- we want to make sure they are at a certain pitch limit for their first start of the year,” Lovullo said. “Really trying to limit the overall innings. We’re not trying to empty the tank so quickly.”

Including the postseason, Gallen and Kelly threw 243 2/3 and 201 2/3 innings, respectively, in 2023. Kelly took some time off in the offseason before getting back on his training regiment that included range of motion exercises, Lovullo said.

“Whether it is one or two innings that we are saving, we are adding all those up,” Lovullo said. “We feel like every inning is going to matter for both these guys.”