'He just beat us': Nelson deals in dominant start vs. Giants

June 26th, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO -- No, Sunday wasn’t a must-win game for the D-backs. The season is much too long for such things in late June.

But their 5-2 win over the Giants at Oracle Park sure felt good because the D-backs avoided a three-game sweep. Along with the Rays and Orioles, they are the only teams in the Majors not to be swept in a series of any length this year.

“I think we felt like we needed to respond to a couple of tough games where we let some things get away from us that we were able to control,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “And I think the group walked in here today very focused and understanding how important today's game was for sure.”

While avoiding the sweep and pushing their lead over the Giants in the National League West to 2 1/2 games was encouraging, the performance by rookie right-hander  was more significant for the D-backs' long-term prospects.

Nelson, who matched his career high by throwing seven innings, allowed just three hits and one run while striking out six.

It was Nelson’s finest outing of the year, and it was the culmination of a lot of work between starts with pitching coach Brent Strom.

Nelson has a big fastball, one that plays up from its velocity due to the amount of spin he gets on it. But Strom has been working with Nelson to mix his pitches better, especially early in counts, and that’s what he did Sunday.

“I felt good today,” Nelson said. “That was what we've been working on right there. That was where we've been trying to get to -- being able to keep hitters off-balance and throw a variety of pitches in a variety of counts. And I think that was executed today.”

Nelson allowed a double to Michael Conforto in the first and walked J.D. Davis right after, but then he set down 15 in a row.

“Against the left-handers, I thought he threw some really good changeups at the bottom of the zone,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “He did a nice job of mixing and matching with the four-seam fastball and that changeup. He threw a ton of strikes, got quick outs. We hit into some harder outs early on. He just beat us. That’s the easiest way to say it."

The only run that Nelson allowed came when Thairo Estrada reached on a wild pitch after striking out with two outs in the sixth. Conforto then walked, and Davis added an RBI single to get the Giants on the board.

Nelson got the final out of the sixth, and Lovullo said he didn’t hesitate to send him back out there for the seventh having thrown just 77 pitches.

“I’ve been trying to prove that I can get deep into games, and I've been trying to keep the pitch count down to have that opportunity,” Nelson said. “Just one, build off of it and keep moving forward.”

After Nelson departed, things got a little dicey for the D-backs in the eighth, when the Giants trailed 4-2 and had runners at first and second with two outs and Patrick Bailey at the plate.

Bailey hit a chopper down the third-base line that made a diving stop on once the ball was past the infield. Davis went from second to third on the play and had to hold when Longoria came up with the ball.

Blake Sabol, however, was on first when the play started. He didn’t see Davis stop, and he rounded second and kept going. Longoria had gotten to his knees and was watching Davis to make sure he didn’t score when he heard the crowd roaring and realized that Sabol was closing in on third.

Longoria got up and threw to second baseman Ketel Marte, who tagged Sabol as he tried to retreat to second to end the inning.

“I think in one play, he defined for every fan of the Arizona Diamondbacks exactly what he means [to this team],” Lovullo said. “It's about commitment, effort, focus. He laid it out there and then saved us in a huge situation where he collected an out. So to me, it was easily the play of the game.”