PHOENIX — In case you haven’t noticed, the Arizona Diamondbacks have been in a state of flux lately.
As is the case with any Major League Baseball team in a 162-game season, the D-backs have made plenty of roster moves this year. Injuries and performance have both forced the team’s hand.
The team’s top pitching prospect, Jon Duplantier, knows that well. On Thursday, he was recalled for the third time this season.
“At first, it’s a little confusing being a starter and having that routine and up here, as a reliever, your routine kind of goes out the window,” he said. “It has to go out the window, to a certain extent. But it’s teaching me a lot about myself, what my body needs, how my body reacts to certain things. A ton of lessons that I probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”
Duplantier, who has appeared exclusively in relief for the D-backs, is back again to provide bullpen help, despite the fact that he’s been a starter in his minor league career, and the team has a void in the rotation with Zack Godley having been moved to the bullpen.
“It’s no mystery — we played extra innings yesterday and we tapped out our bullpen, and we had to get a little bit of length, a little bit of coverage,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “[Duplantier] will be here to pitch out of the bullpen and give us a little coverage.”
But what other change is ahead? For one, the D-backs need a starting pitcher on Sunday.
Taylor Clarke, who took Godley’s place in the rotation for one start this week, was sent down when Duplantier was called up Thursday. That leaves a need for Sunday, when that now-empty rotation spot will come up again. The team can’t bring back Clarke again, since a player is ineligible to be recalled for 10 days one he is optioned to an affiliate, barring an injury.
“It’s hard to say,” Lovullo said Thursday when asked if Duplantier could start Sunday. “Obviously Taylor Clarke was in line for that, but that’s changed now. We’re going to circle up and have some discussions. [Duplantier] is here first and foremost to give us some coverage in the bullpen, and then day-by-day, we’ll mix and match what will happen on Sunday.”
Ironically, even though Duplantier has been starting with the Triple-A Reno Aces and relieving for the D-backs, his longest appearance at either level this year was a four-inning outing for the D-backs. For him to start and pitch a longer outing, he may need more appearances to get “stretched out” before doing so.
But that doesn’t mean he or another bullpen arm can’t have an abbreviated start on Sunday, similar to the “bullpen games” or “opener” concept employed by some MLB teams, like the Tampa Bay Rays.
“We’ll exhaust every consideration once we get to that point,” Lovullo said when asked of that possibility, saying there were multiple contingencies in place for different scenarios. He later added, “So, yeah, I’m guessing we would consider that if it came up.”
Perhaps Godley could take his spot back, too. Since getting moved to the bullpen, Godley has made two appearances for a combined four innings, allowing three runs on four hits, three walks and four strikeouts. He also earned one save.
“I think Zack now, it’s been a couple of outings,” Lovullo said. “I think he’s thrown the ball extremely well. And I’m noticing some differences in a lot of the things that we sat down and talked about. And it’s not easy to have those conversations. He got some information that I’m sure he maybe agreed with or perhaps didn’t agree with, but he took it, he was coachable, and he applied it and we’re watching that play out.”
Who actually gets the nod remains to be seen. In the meantime, Duplantier is just happy to be back — again.
Speaking of change, more could come as injured players make their way back. Some appear to be close to doing so.
–Catcher Alex Avila (quad strain), out since April 7, has caught this week and run the bases. He’s getting “very close,” Lovullo said Thursday.
–Infielder Jake Lamb (quad strain), out since April 5, has taken batting practice and thrown a baseball. There was “talk” of him taking ground balls on Thursday, and he had done some “light” base running. He’s progressing well, Lovullo said.
–Taijuan Walker (Tommy John surgery), out since April of last year, threw a 47-pitch, four-inning simulated game earlier this week and will throw a bullpen session on Friday. After that, the team will determine his next step.