SAN DIEGO — The Diamondbacks had it all planned. Ian Kennedy, Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill would log 200 innings apiece, the two young left-handers would do the rest, and the starting rotation would be provide the stability that has come to mark the bigger-named groups in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The reality was nothing close, perhaps the biggest stumbling block in the D-backs’ ability to contend for the NL West title.
“I think that’s fairly accurate,” D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said on the recent homestand.
“It’s been tough. We’ve had injuries, losing Brandon and Cahill for a significant amount of time. But both those guys are having down years for them. I always say every year the team that gets to postseason is usually the one that throws the ball the best. Our expectations were probably a little bit higher for our rotation, but it hasn’t worked out that way.”
Things went so haywire that when Kennedy started Wednesday, it was for San Diego, not the D-backs, for whom he won 36 games in 2011-12. And D-backs’ starter Randall Delgado was not in the rotation until June.
While Patrick Corbin made the All-Star team in his first full season and Wade Miley put up his second solid season, it is safe to say the D-backs need to do better, especially if the Dodgers retain potential free agent Clayton Kershaw to go with Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who are under contract or control through 2018. FOX’s Ken Rosenthal reported the Dodgers and Kershaw discussed a seven-year, $210 million extension earlier this season before talks stopped.
Managing partner Ken Kendrick said Tuesday that adding to the rotation is “definitely a possibility,” and with the five slots filled at this point, that points to a possible trade to add a bat to the lineup.
“I don’t know where we are going with our rotation next year,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “It wasn’t as consistent as we thought it would be. We’ve gotten a lot of innings out of our starting rotation, but the results maybe not as good in certain areas. How it’s going to all shake out, though, are we are going to add somebody? Are we going to subtract somebody? I don’t know.”
Corbin will lead the team in victories and ERA — he is 14-7 with a 3.28 ERA heading into his final start of the season Thursday. Miley has 10 wins, and is the only other starter in double figures and with an ERA under 3.65.
McCarthy(5-10, 4.64 ERA) missed two months with the right shoulder inflammation that affects him every year, and getting back on the mound brought with it some ghosts of the Sept., 5, 2012, line drive that caused a concussion and a fractured skull. Cahill (8-10, 4.02) missed seven weeks with a hip injury. During his time on the disabled list he worked on finding a higher release point. Both have pitched well for the last six weeks.
“I kind of re-found myself at the end of the year. It sucks it took this long,” said McCarthy, who also suffered a seizure while on the disabled list and is required to take daily medication that is constantly being tweaked.
“There is still a sense of pride in that there was a lot of stuff to deal with this year, and it’s tough to find yourself pitching-wise when you are dealing with some of those things. At the end of the year I was able to get there and feel like myself again. It’s been a pretty disappointing year.”
The D-backs’ starters enter the final five games of the season ranked sixth among the 15 NL teams in innings pitched (946 2-3), but they were ninth in quality starts, 10th in ERA and third in earned runs permitted. The rotation went 24 starts from early June to early July without a victory, although a lot of that also had to do with the bullpen’s inability to hold a lead. (The D-backs still lead the majors with 29 failed save conversions.) At the same time, only Miami and the Cubs have fewer victories from their starters than the D-backs’ 46.
D-backs starters have given up 113 homers, the second most in the NL, and have been charged with a major league-high 58 wild pitches. Both numbers could cause them to rethink their pitching philosophy, something that Pittsburgh tried with some success this season.
“Just about the kind of pitches they throw,” Gibson said. “We’ve given up a lot of home runs and a lot of wild pitches. If we could make some adjustments in that area with the same personnel, it seems like it would make us better. That’s something we will look at.”
Left-handers Tyler Skaggs and David Holmberg and right-hander Zeke Spruill got starts this season, but without much success. Right-hander Archie Bradley is the jewel of the minor league system after going 14-5 with a 1.84 ERA and 162 strikeouts in 152 innings. Competition is a good thing, Gibson believes, and it seems likely that Bradley and Skaggs will have a chance to make the rotation next spring, even if the current five remain.
“The more competition you create, it makes us all better,” GIbson said.
“When season is over, we’ll get into that (evaluation) part of it. You have a lot of thoughts that you store, and that’s where I am at this point. We’ll get together as a organization and a staff and weed through everybody’s thoughts. I think we have some good options, for sure. We have some depth at positions, and it puts K.T. (Towers) in a good position to retool in certain areas we have to retool.”