PHOENIX — Just a few months removed from beating the Rockies in the Wild Card game, Arizona began the 2018 season both with expectations and familiarity; Facing Colorado again, Arizona opened the season with a pair of slugfest wins over its NL West foe from Denver.
On Saturday, the story was different.
D-backs ace Zack Greinke made his season debut, just two days after the Opening Day that he didn’t pitch in, but it didn’t look like he missed a beat: The right-hander went 5.2 innings, allowed one run on five hits, no walks and nine strikeouts. He threw 59 of his 83 pitches for strikes.
Still, it wasn’t enough to get the win.
“If you were to tell me that we were going to hold the Rockies to two runs before the game, I would’ve thought we had a really good chance of winning,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “But give their pitchers some credit. I thought our guys on the mound did an exceptional job. Zack was outstanding, five and two thirds, 83 pitches, what more could you ask in his first start of the year after getting nicked up in spring training? A very, very good solid effort all the way through.”
A pair of solo home runs from Charlie Blackmon — one off Greinke and another off of Fernando Salas — were all the Rockies needed to avoid a sweep to start their season. The D-backs scored their first run of the game on a single, an error and a fielder’s choice in the fourth inning to make it 1-0, but wouldn’t cross the plate again.
Colorado pitchers faced the minimum from midway through the bottom of the fifth inning onto the end of the game.
“Offensively, we had a couple opportunities and just couldn’t capitalize at the right time,” Lovullo said. “A miscue or two at the wrong time may have cost us a big out in an inning, and those little things add up. Unfortunately, we lost the game.”
Lovullo said Greinke’s strong outing was some consolation in the loss.
The 34-year-old allowed one hit in each of his first three innings Saturday before settling down with back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and the fifth. In the sixth inning, however, a first-pitch curveball to Blackmon was taken deep to give Colorado their first run of the evening and tie the score at 1-1.
Greinke would face three more hitters before exiting. Jorge De La Rosa faced one batter in relief, followed by two innings from Fernando Salas.
“I did alright. Made a couple mistakes, obviously the one that hurt the most was the one to Blackmon,” Greinke said of the curveball that was hit out of the park, the first breaking pitch Greinke had thrown to the Rockies’ leadoff man.
“That was part of the thinking too, is, I hadn’t shown it to him. Like I said, the location was the problem and that was the big mistake.”
In the eighth, Blackmon struck again. His second home run — a shot to right field on an 0-1 fastball from Salas — was the dagger for Arizona. That was Salas’ second inning of work. As Lovullo noted, the team was short in the bullpen after leaning heavily on its relievers the previous two days.
Andrew Chafin pitched the ninth, a 1-2-3 inning.
The D-backs are a game above .500 after facing one of the tougher opponents in their division to start the year, and Arizona is surely relieved that its ace appears to be OK, despite a small injury in the spring. Greinke, though, just wishes Arizona had won — even if it had been the way they did on Friday, by a score of 9-8.
“I’m happy to pitch good, but I mean I’d probably rather do what happened yesterday, as long as I know I’m going to be pitching good the rest of the year, I’d rather that be the case,” Greinke said. “But pitching alright, just wish the game had turned out different.”
On Friday, D-backs shortstop Nick Ahmed went off for a three-hit performance with a home run and five RBI. On Saturday, he doubled in his first at-bat and later got the D-backs’ only RBI when he drove home Daniel Descalso on a fielder’s choice.
“I think I answered the question yesterday where if we’re thinking about him just being one-dimensional, a defensive player, we may need to re-adjust our sightlines on this,” Lovullo said. “Because I know he’s working his tail off, every single day, to become a complete player.”
Ahmed is 5-for-11 (.454) with six RBI to start the year. In his injury-shortened 2017 season, the 28-year-old hit a career-high .251 with six home runs and 21 RBI in 53 games.
Outside of Blackmon’s two dingers, it was also less-than-ideal that David Peralta was picked off of first base after drawing a walk to lead off the inning (a miscue that Lovullo alluded to after the game). After the out, Pollock walked, which would have put two on and nobody out with Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb coming up in the lineup.
Speaking of Goldschmidt, the All-Star first baseman is still hitless three games into the season. He struck out twice on Saturday and is 0-for-8 with four walks in 2018.
STAT OF THE GAME
Saturday marked the third time Greinke has had nine or more strikeouts and no walks since he joined the D-backs before the 2016 season.
HE SAID IT
“You know, I talked to Jeff Mathis on a mound visit and [Blackmon’s] just a good hitter. First breaking ball he’d seen all game long and out of nowhere, Zack throws it, executes — it wasn’t a terrible pitch, just — Charlie Blackmon’s a good hitter. He beat us tonight. He single-handedly beat us tonight and sometimes you’ve got to give credit where credit is due.” –Torey Lovullo
–Lovullo said before the game that Ketel Marte’s ejection in Friday night’s game was not related to his absence from the lineup on Saturday. He said the hot bat of Nick Ahmed and the desire to get Daniel Descalso in the lineup were the driving forces behind sitting Marte, who recently signed a contract extension with the D-backs.
Marte was thrown out for slamming his bat on the ground after striking out.
“I just reacted like that in the moment, I’m not that kind of guy,” Marte said through a team interpreter. “It’s just something that happens in the game. I’m not going to be the first or the last guy to have that happen. I just want to move on and be able to focus on the next game.
“I’ve been frustrated for a while now, not just strike two but the calls I’ve gotten in the past during the season. That’s just not me but it happened and it was something that came from before last night.”
Marte pinch-hit on Saturday and struck out.
–The D-backs will stick with the same rotation that they’ve outlined for the first five games of the season when that rotation turns over to the top in the third game of the upcoming Dodgers series. Arizona would thus be expected to pitch Patrick Corbin, Robbie Ray, Greinke, Taijuan Walker and Zack Godley in that order until further notice.
The Diamondbacks will have a very rare day off on a Sunday, followed by the beginning of a three-game series at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It will, of course, be the first time the two NL West foes have faced each other since Arizona was eliminated from the postseason with a loss to the Dodgers in the NLCS.
Walker will pitch in game one on Monday, facing left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu. Walker had a 3.49 ERA in 28 starts last season, his first with Arizona. He faced the Dodgers four times last year (including once in the postseason), going 2-1. In the regular season, he held a 3.24 ERA against the Dodgers in 16.2 IP.
Ryu faced Arizona twice in 2017. The D-backs won both of those games.
On Tuesday, Zack Godley will make his season debut against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, with Alex Wood and Patrick Corbin going on Wednesday for the matinee contest.
The D-backs will then go on the road to play the St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants.