PHOENIX — At FanFest last month, Diamondbacks left-hander Tyler Skaggs said he planned to treat every chance to pitch this spring, while competing for the final spot in the starting rotation, as if it were the seventh game of the World Series.
Manager Kirk Gibson said recently that he believed that self-imposed pressure has had something to do with Skaggs’ early spring struggles, and Gibson urged him to relax when the two spoke Friday morning.
“I think he has gone out there and put too much emphasis on winning a spot every pitch he throws,” Gibson said. “We’ll try to back him off of that attitude a little bit. I mean, I don’t know if he’s going to make the team or not. I encouraged him to try to make it. At the same time, he has to stay focused on the process of becoming a complete pitcher. He has to be a pitcher.”
Skaggs gave up three runs on three hits and two walks in a relief appearance against the Reds on Thursday, throwing a wild pitch and committing a balk as he struggled with mechanics. He has given up seven hits and five runs in 2 1/3 innings in two appearances, and he was hard on himself afterward Thursday.
Patrick Corbin and Randall Delgado are the other candidates for the fifth spot. Corbin pitched three scoreless innings of three-hit in relief of starter Trevor Cahill and got the victory in the D-backs’ 6-2 victory over the Cubs at HoHoKam Park on Friday.
“He spots the ball well. His slider has been a really good pitch this year,” Gibson said of Corbin. “He hangs in there pretty good. Keeps his composure. Continues to make good pitches and get out of it.”
Overall this spring, Corbin has not allowed on earned run on four hits and two walks while striking out four in five innings.
The D-backs are emphasizing fastball command and strike-throwing in the spring, and Gibson would like to see Skaggs transfer that from what have been successful bullpen sessions into games.
“He has great stuff. He has to be able to establish the zone when he pitches. When he throws his bullpen, he’ll be money. Arm side, glove side, up and down, he’ll be right on it. But that emotion, for all of us that play the game, is something you have to deal with. You have to learn how to slow things down, sure,” said Gibson, who said he experienced the same thing as a young player.
Skaggs, who was 1-3 with a 5.83 ERA in six starts late last year, is scheduled to pitch in relief following Ian Kennedy next Tuesday in an exhibition game against Mexico’s World Baseball Classic team at Salt River Fields. In Skaggs’ next bullpen session, “We’re going to work on pounding the strike zone and get relaxed and have the confidence the next game we can do that,” Gibson said.
“I would rather see him get his butt kicked by throwing low strikes, if that’s what it takes. It’s just like a step-by-step (process). He has to command his fastball, and he didn’t do that (Thursday),” Gibson continued.
LONG WAIT FOR CAHILL
With spring training six days longer because of the World Baseball Classic, Cahill’s first start did not come until the seventh day of spring training. It is all part of the plan.
Six starts is a normal spring, and Gibson did not want to get the pitchers out of their routine of building up to about 100 pitches in their fifth start and then tapering off in the start before the regular season begins.
“The key is to have as few outings as possible but be ready for the start of the season. That’s kind of the goal,” said Cahill, who gave up two hits and two runs with two strikeouts in two innings. “Every other year it is six, and I felt ready for the year all the other times, so might as well keep it the same.”
Cahill is to start the second game of the regular season, which is set for April 2 against the Cardinals at Chase Field, following Ian Kennedy in the opener.
Cody Ross (lower calf muscle) was given Friday off and is not expected to play Saturday because of a scheduled off day, Gibson said. The D-backs are thin on outfielders as it is, and with Gerardo Parra and Willie Bloomquist scheduled to leave for the World Baseball Classic on Sunday, Gibson is being particularly mindful of health.