'Poised' Widener has scoreless 1st MLB start

April 5th, 2021

Taylor Widener made his first career Major League start Sunday afternoon against the Padres and given the way he held the Padres in check over six innings, he's in no danger of coming out of the rotation any time soon.

Widener allowed three hits, while keeping the Padres off the board as the D-backs managed to salvage the final game of the four-game series with a 3-1 win.

"It was a huge day and a huge win for us," D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. "We’ve experienced some heartbreak and frustration in a couple of our losses."

In the first three games of the series, no D-backs starter lasted more than four innings and overall combined to allow 12 earned runs over 11 innings.

"As you can tell, he’s very poised out there," catcher Carson Kelly said. "When there’s traffic going on, he’s confident and calm in that moment. He just did a really good job today. He executed the pitches when he needed to. He put us in a position to win that ballgame."

Widener, 26, made his big league debut last year and compiled a 4.50 ERA in 12 relief appearances.

A solid spring locked down a bullpen spot for Widener, but it turned into a starting job when Zac Gallen opened the season on the injured list.

"Especially with it being my first time starting, it feels really good to get the win," Widener said.

Widener was on the attack early. It took him all of five pitches to retire the Padres in order in the first inning and, as Kelly said, the only time he had real traffic on the bases in the second inning, he managed to pitch his way out of a bases-loaded jam.

Widener is known for liking to challenge hitters with his fastball and he used that pitch early and often in the first few innings.

"We were just trying to really establish fastballs and trying to get ahead of everybody," Widener said. "Trying not to fall behind and just get ahead so we could use other stuff later. As soon as you fall behind, they’re all great hitters. Like everybody in this league, you’ve got to get ahead."

As the game wore on and he faced hitters for the third time, Widener began to use more of his offspeed stuff.

While Widener's changeup has been good, it's his slider that is the key pitch for him. Last year, he felt he was not throwing it close enough to the strike zone to get hitters to swing at it. So he worked hard at changing his target when he threw it to try and make sure he didn't bounce as many.

“I think for him it was just getting ahead," Kelly said. "Getting ahead. Everything plays when you get ahead. He was mixing up his pitches, being aggressive and basically just attacking that zone. You have a lot of options when you do that. He did a tremendous job today."

A starter throughout his Minor League career, Widener adjusted nicely to the bullpen in '20. He learned to love the adrenaline rush he got when the phone would ring and bullpen coach Mike Fetters would call out his name to get ready.

As a starter, though, he enjoys the regular routine and workout schedule he can stay on.

Gallen is expected back in the not-too-distant future, but if Widener continues to pitch anywhere close to how he did on Sunday, it's hard to imagine that he would be the one taken out of the rotation.

"I’m going to do whatever the team needs me to do," Widener said. "I love starting. I love relieving. There are different things that I love about both of them. I’m just going to do what they need me to do. I’m just going to go out and keep pitching and keep trying to get guys out, whatever role they put me in, I’m going to be happy with wherever I’m at."

Right now, the D-backs are plenty happy with him right where he’s at.