January 30, 2023

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Thomas launches two of D-backs' five dingers

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PITTSBURGH — The D-backs aren’t built to be a top homer-hitting team in MLB, but they’ve shown streaks of it. As recently as a stretch from May 16-24, the D-backs’ lineup produced 21 home runs in 10 games, including a seven-dinger affair at windy Wrigley Field.

Coming into Friday’s series opener at PNC Park, though, they’d only hit three in their past seven games against the past two World Series champions in the Dodgers and the Braves. But the D-backs showed they can still slug by crushing five homers to key an 8-6 victory over the Pirates.

The first came from a player who has crept up near the top of the National League home run leaderboard with little fanfare. Christian Walker slugged a leadoff homer in the second inning, a Statcast-projected 420-foot drive to left-center field. It was his 14th long ball of the season, trailing only Mookie Betts’ 16 in the NL.

Walker is on a tear right now, with eight homers in his past 17 games — half of which have come against the Dodgers, one of MLB’s best rotations and a team which has swept Arizona in each of their past two series. His pace of late is a far cry from his April production, when he posted a .576 OPS in 21 games but felt like he was making the kind of contact he wanted.

“When you get evaluated on your game results, that’s where the focus tends to go,” Walker said. “So even when I’m hitting balls hard, sticking to my process, it’s comforting to see some results head in my direction.”

But it wasn’t just the veterans doing the bashing Friday. The only player with multiple homers on the night was 22-year-old Alek Thomas, the D-backs’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline. His first of the game was a much-needed solo homer to right-center field to tie the game for the third time through four innings, and it turned out to be the longest dinger of the night at a projected 432 feet.

Then, he drove another ball the same way with just a bit less pace, estimated at 396 feet, to mark his first career multi-homer game in the big leagues. The vaunted prospect entered Friday in a 4-for-31 rut after a scorching start to his Major League career, but the D-backs are hoping he’s made the adjustment to keep him hot.

“I felt like I was a little inconsistent with my at-bats,” Thomas said of that stretch. “I’d have some good ones and then I’d have some bad ones. Just trying to find that middle ground and continue to have good at-bats. I’m still trying to do that, and it showed up a little bit today.”

“I think what you guys are seeing is, in my opinion, he’s going to stay for a long time,” said Merrill Kelly, who gave up three runs (two earned) in five innings. “You never know in this game, but I think he has the mentality and the tools to be like this for a while.”

Maybe the most impressive home run of the night belonged to Ketel Marte. After a leadoff double by Josh Rojas, Marte turned on a high fastball and torched it 112.6 mph perfectly placed beside where the right-field foul pole merges with the Clemente Wall. Walker had a perfect view from the on-deck circle.

“I had a feeling it was going to go out, it was just a matter of how high it was,” Walker said. “I think he hit it like 112, 113, but I think I’ve seen that guy do that a handful of times. That’s not a surprise. He’s an amazing hitter.”

Rounding up the big bashing action was Jake McCarthy with a ball that snuck over the Clemente Wall to go back to back with Thomas’ second homer in the seventh. It was McCarthy’s second of the season.

With that handful of homers, the D-backs were one of six teams in MLB with at least five home runs in a game Friday, marking the first day in MLB history that has happened. Before then, no more than four teams had hit five homers in a game on the same day.

“We needed every run,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “This was a great team win.”

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