PHOENIX — Pardon Jake Lamb if he wondered what the big deal was about Double-A.
In first at-bat at Mobile this season, Lamb lined a fastball into into the left-field seats off Atlanta left-hander Mike Minor, who was in the Southern League on a rehab assignment.
It sure seemed like a good thing. Ten games and five hits later, Lamb was not so sure. He was hitting .171, and pitchers had found an area to attack after seeing Lamb take an outside fastball out of the park.
"They said, ‘All right, he can hit a home run to left field on a fastball away. Let’s see if he can go fastball in,’ " Lamb said.
"I was struggling with the fastball in, and once I started cheating to the fastballs, then they would go soft away. I made a few minor adjustments, as far as just being able to get to that (inside) pitch."
The change worked in Mobile and it worked again Friday, when Lamb hit a two-out, go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning to lift the D-backs to a 5-2 victory over Colorado.
The fastball from Rockies right-hander Adam Ottavino was timed at 97 mph on the Chase Field radar gun, and Lamb drove it into the overhang just to the left field side of the batter’s eye. That came after he struck out on more moderately paced fastballs earlier, one resulting in a double play.
"I was missing the ones at 90 miles an hour," Lamb said. "I was just trying to do a little too much early on in the game. I was frustrated. Had guys in scoring position multiple times. You always want to come through in those situations.
"To come through in that situation was cool."
Lamb’s home run was his second in 55 at-bats with the D-backs, about the same pace he was on at Mobile, when he had 14 homers in 347 at-bats.
Lamb still leads the Southern League with .319 batting average and a .949 OPS and ranks in the top five in doubles and RBI, and he appears to be the top candidate for the Southern League MVP award, even though he played only 103 games in Mobile before being promoted to Triple-A Reno when Martin Prado was traded on July 31. Lamb took the final step up week later, when the D-backs purchased his contract on Aug. 7 so as to take a look at their heir apparent at third base.
Adjustments made, Lamb took the Southern League apart from that point. He still leads the Southern League with .319 batting average and a .949 OPS and ranks in the top five in doubles and RBI.
Lamb appears to be the top candidate for the Southern League MVP award, even though he played only 103 games in Mobile before being promoted to Triple-A Reno when Martin Prado was traded on July 31. Lamb took the final step up week later, when the D-backs purchased his contract on Aug. 7 so as to take a look at their heir apparent at third base.
Jake Lamb, center, is greeted by teammates Mark Trumbo (15) and David Peralta (6) after hitting an eighth-inning grand slam against the Rockies on Friday.
Although the proof is in Lamb’s numbers, the MVP award would be a tangible testament to his ability to read and react, a must for major league hitters. The changes were subtle but necessary, and enough to enable him to be prepared for the inside fastball.
"Not trying to pull every pitch, but there are going to be times where guys go changeup away and then they want to come in with the fastball. Just being ready to be able to hit that pitch," Lamb said.
"The first month, I was just uncomfortable. Worked it out … with the help of (manager) Andy Green and (hitting coach) Jacob Cruz. That was fun. It was great working with them."
Lamb had a slow start in a small sample size with the D-backs, and Green texted Lamb while the D-backs were in Washington, reminding him of his earlier turnaround. Since that and two work days with D-backs hitting coach Turner Ward, Lamb has reached safely in all four games he has played, with four hits, three walks and his first major league home run last Saturday.
Gibson knows first-hand that the introduction to the major leagues has its own set of stresses.
"I mean, it’s an overwhelming experience," said Gibson, who struck out against Goose Gossage in his first major league at-bat on Sept. 8, 1979, before hitting the 1984 World Series-clinching homer against Gossage five years later.
"That’s a big jump. It’s kind of a process of, ‘I’m here, I’m excited.’ Then you get going. Things are, I don’t want to say overwhelming, but you have a lot you are processing. Then you settle in a little bit and start to realize what is going on, and then you start to realize they are doing this to me and what is my response to it. That’s kind of where he is at.
"He worked with Turner for a couple of days, not just physical but the mental part of it. That’s just part of the process. That’s why we decided to bring him up, to see what adjustments he would make. We thought it would be beneficial looking forward to next year. He’s getting a free education and getting paid for it."
Lamb, 23, will receive every chance to be the D-backs’ starting third baseman in 2015, his progression through the minor leagues since he was a sixth-round draft choice in 2012 holds much more weight than his few at-bats the rest of this season.
"At the end of the day, I have to realize I am up here for a reason, because I’m good enough to play at this level," Lamb said. "I think the first few weeks I maybe didn’t realize that. the game is a little bit faster, but at the end of the day it is the same ball, the same field you have played on your whole life."
The night of his first major league homer, his mother called to congratulate him.
It was not a good time.
Lamb was navigating his way from Chase Field to his place in north Scottsdale when the phone rang. He was trying to make a turn, so he hit decline.
She texted shortly.
"You big-leagued your own mother," the text read.
Lamb called her a few minutes later.
The story made the rounds.
"I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal, but I’ve heard a bunch of people talking about (it), as far as me big-leaguing my mom and getting lost," he said.
"I don’t mind. I think it’s funny."
Lamb received another text from his mom while in the clubhouse after Friday’s game. He said he was not leaving until he got her call.
The D-backs are the first team with three rookies — Jake Lamb, Alfredo Marte, David Peralta — to hit a grand slam in a season since Cleveland in 2006. The D-backs’ slams have come in the last five weeks. Marte hit one in Philadelphia on July 25 and Peralta hit one against Colorado on Aug. 9. Shin-Soo Choo, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Andy Marte (now with Triple-A Reno) did it for the Indians.
8 — triples by David Peralta, most among major league rookies this season. And he did so in only 73 games
* Josh Collmenter had given up two hits and thrown 81 pitches when he was removed with one out in the seventh inning, after Drew Stubbs beat out a bunt single. Collmenter had retired 18 in a row after Charlie Blackmon’s game-opening single, but manager Kirk Gibson turned to Oliver Perez, saying he does not want to over-extend Collmenter down the stretch. Collmenter has thrown 144 innings, the most since his rookie season in 2011 when he had 154-1/3. "I didn’t expect it," Collmenter said. "It was a little bit surprising. This is the first time I’ve been in this (innings) neighborhood in a couple of years. I’m sure there been some talk about that, the way we have been pitchers getting hurt. There is no sense losing somebody at the end of this year that could affect somebody next year."
* Daniel Hudson, Chris Owings, A.J. Pollock and Cody Ross — four of the 15 D-backs to hit the disabled list this season — are expected to join the D-backs in San Diego shortly after rosters expand on Sept. 1. Ross took live batting and ran the bases Friday, another step forward from his strained calf. Pollock had a two-run single in Reno on Friday. Hudson pitched another scoreless inning at Reno on Friday, giving up a hit and a walk with one strikeout.
Addison Reed pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning to record his 31st save of the season and the 100th of his career. "Right now it is just a number to me," Reed said. "It sounds cliché, but the most important thing is we did get a win." Reed had 29 and 40 saves in his two seasons with the White Sox after winning the job in May, 2012.