PHOENIX — A four-run ninth-inning rally by the D-backs made Sunday afternoon’s final score a bit more respectable at 10-5, but that wasn’t going to be enough to satisfy manager Torey Lovullo after he watched his club drop three of four to the Padres in the season-opening series.
“Let’s not be mistaken,” Lovullo said. “Let’s rewind this day a little bit and talk about some of the things that put us in that situation.”
That situation was a 10-1 deficit that included some pitching and defensive lapses that put the game out of reach early.
“I think we can pitch the ball better, we can pick up the ball better, we can eliminate runs being scored by just playing the type of defense that I expect us to play,” Lovullo said. “Three unearned runs to me is unacceptable. That game should have been a lot closer than it was. I think you pick up on the baseball, make plays and do it the way you’re supposed to. I think it goes hand in hand with the pitching.”
Defense was an issue for the D-backs last season. So much so that this spring, Lovullo said the team was going all the way back to the basics — talking to infielders about glove positioning on ground balls, how to come around on a grounder and even talking about the speed of average ground balls.
So when second baseman Ketel Marte couldn’t field Jake Cronenworth’s grounder to open the second and Caleb Smith proceeded to go walk, walk, home run, home run, walk to the next five batters, the D-backs were down 5-0, Smith was out of the game and Lovullo was unhappy.
“You guys watched the same game I did,” Lovullo said. “You give up 10 runs, it’s unacceptable. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got a day off [Monday]. We can turn the page. That’s all we can do. We can learn from it, move on, keep pressing and teaching. Do what we can to make something good happen on Tuesday.”
While the defense didn’t help him out in the second, Smith has to shoulder the blame for the inning by walking three and allowing a pair of homers.
After struggling in the rotation last year, Smith was shifted to the bullpen, where he enjoyed success. This spring, after some mechanical tweaks by new pitching coach Brent Strom, Smith pitched well enough to earn a spot in the rotation.
A 1-2-3 first inning in which Smith struck out two and threw only 10 pitches was about as good of a start as he could have scripted. But in the second, everything went awry.
“I think it might be like a small mechanical [issue],” Smith said of his lack of command in the second. “I walked the first guy, and then I started thinking, ‘Don’t walk them,’ and that’s just the wrong mindset to have, because if you start throwing to guys and just trying not to walk them, you stray away from your main focus, which is getting them out. And that’s what I did, and when you do that, it never works out for you.”
Whether Smith stays in the rotation or heads back to the bullpen, Lovullo was not ready to say until he had time to sort through all that transpired Sunday.
“We’re talking about everything under the sun right now,” Lovullo said. “We’ll figure some things out. We’ve got a lot to talk about, and not just in that one area. This team did not play good baseball today.”