TEMPE, Ariz. — Before Saturday’s game at Tempe Diablo Stadium, Archie Bradley was feeling like a kid again. Having ridden over to the ballpark and walked in with catcher Miguel Montero, the 21-year-old Diamondbacks pitcher had the chance to meet three-time MVP Albert Pujols.
"We ran into Pujols, and (Montero) goes, ‘Hey, you want to meet him?’ And I was like a little kid, like, ‘Yeah, of course I want to meet him,’" Bradley said. "He introduced me, and that was really cool."
A short while later, Bradley was staring down Pujols from the mound during his second Cactus League start with the D-backs, fully conscious of the situation he faced before ringing Pujols up with a breaking ball for a called third strike.
"I’m sitting there looking like, ‘I’m facing a Hall of Fame guy right now. This guy’s going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer,’" Bradley recalled. "Definitely the adrenaline kicked in a whole lot more than it already was. It was a fun moment."
In his second Cactus League start, Bradley added to the growing hype that’s followed him this spring, all but guaranteeing that questions will continue as to whether he’ll make the D-backs’ roster out of camp.
As things stand now, with the Diamondbacks’ rotation pretty much set, the odds look a little long for Bradley. But questions about whether Bronson Arroyo, who’s dealing with a back injury, will be ready by the start of the season have opened the door just a crack.
D-backs general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson continue to insist that Bradley is in the mix for a rotation spot. The way he’s throwing has to be inspiring more and more confidence about his potential, regardless of whether he’s in the rotation at the start of the season or not until further in the future.
On Saturday, Bradley threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings — giving him 6 1/3 scoreless frames this spring — and allowed two hits while striking out three and walking two.
The kid is a bulldog on the mound. There’s no doubt about that. He competes. He’s not scared. I like his makeup on the mound. It just shows that he’s ready.
D-backs catcher Miguel Montero on Archie Bradley
"He’s progressing, he looks great," Gibson said. "What can you say? He certainly didn’t go backwards."
Bradley had to work out of trouble more than once. With two outs and runners on the corners in the second inning, Montero ended the inning by catching the runner on first base too far off the bag. Bradley faced the same situation in the third inning after giving up a 3-2 single, only this time he found himself facing Pujols again.
"He was excited to face him, I guess," Montero joked. "I said to him, ‘Is that what you were trying to do there — get two guys on with two outs just to face Pujols? That’s a good move. Probably don’t want to do that during the season.’ But no, he did a good job."
Bradley got Pujols to ground out on a breaking ball, escaping the inning unscathed. After getting Raul Ibanez to strike out looking to start the fourth inning, Bradley hit Chris Iannetta and was done for the day after 58 pitches.
Montero, catching Bradley for the first time in a game, came away impressed, especially by Bradley’s demeanor on the mound.
"The kid is a bulldog on the mound," Montero said. "There’s no doubt about that. He competes. He’s not scared. I like his makeup on the mound. It just shows that he’s ready. He shows that he doesn’t care who’s hitting. He believes in himself."
Montero, who’s highly regarded for the way he handles pitchers and calls games, has used this spring to lay the foundation of a relationship with Bradley, whom Montero knows could arrive in the majors anytime now.
It’s been easy for Montero, as Bradley is eager to learn from a wisened veteran. It doesn’t hurt that Bradley’s locker is positioned right next to Montero’s in the clubhouse at Salt River Fields. They talk daily about specific hitters, different pitches and just baseball in general.
"He’s been super nice, kind of taking me under his wing," Bradley said. "The thing I like about him, and I don’t know if he does it purposefully for me or what, but he’s very positive. He talks to me in between innings, talks about guys, pitches I made. Even when I throw a bad pitch, he tells me it was great. I know he’s just doing it for my confidence, and I love it."
Bradley certainly isn’t lacking in confidence. In his first start, he handled the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer. He wasn’t tested as much Saturday, though Pujols was the best hitter he’s faced yet.
"What I saw were swings that told me (Bradley’s) got good stuff, but Pujols when he came up the next time swatted one pretty good," Gibson said. "He’s just got explosive stuff. He has that. We’ve got to keep him healthy, keep him developing, help him understand how to use his pitches."
As for development, Bradley said he had the chance to use his changeup four or five times Saturday after not using it in his first start. His breaking ball was working, too, as evidenced by the three called strikeouts.
Bradley hasn’t heard what the Diamondbacks have planned for him next. The team’s next split-squad day comes before what would be Bradley’s fifth day, and the D-backs head to Australia on March 16 for their season opener. After returning, they have one more split-squad day before breaking camp, so there could be one more chance for Bradley to get a start. He also could be brought in after a scheduled starter.
Whatever the immediate plan, it’s becoming more and more evident that Bradley won’t be long for the minors. There’s been much discussion of starting Bradley’s service-time clock and how the timing of his big league debut will impact the D-backs’ control of his rights.
However the Diamondbacks process all that information, all indications are that Bradley will get the call as soon as they need him.
"He’s obviously a guy that we’re going to see in the future on our team — probably anytime," Montero said. "I want him to do good. He’s competitive and a great talent. And a winner."