SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – In a perfect world, the Diamondbacks would break camp with two left-handers in the starting rotation, the better to match up against the likes of division lefties Carlos Gonzalez, Adrian Gonzalez, Yonder Alonso and even switch-hitter Chase Headley, who hits better from that side.
But general manager Kevin Towers has made it perfectly clear that the competition for the fifth spot between left-handers Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs and right-hander Randall Delgado is wide open. All will get an early look. Skaggs is to start the Feb. 23 Cactus League opener, and Corbin and Delgado will go the next two days.
“I consider it even. I wouldn’t say anyone has a leg up,” Towers said.
“It would be nice two have two left-handers in your rotation. When you look at the NL West, it would make it a little more difficult on those clubs in our division that have a lot of lefties in their lineup. If Delgado ends up being the better of the group of the three, then he will be our fifth starter. We like all three.”
Corbin and Skaggs, who are good friends and have been together since being chosen only one round apart by the Los Angeles Angels in the 2009 draft, got their feet wet in the rotation last season. Corbin was 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA in 22 appearances. He won his major league debut in Miami on April 30 — during the first of his three stints in the majors — after Daniel Hudson suffered the elbow injury that led to his Tommy John surgery. Corbin returned as a reliever in late June and then again as a starter when the D-backs moved Josh Collmenter into a long relief role on Aug. 1.
Skaggs was 1-3 with a 5.83 ERA in six starts for the D-backs, joining the rotation when Joe Saunders was traded in late August. Delgado has the most experience of the three, making 17 starts with Atlanta last season and 24 in two seasons, but the D-backs have not seen him as much after acquiring him as a piece of the Justin Upton package deal in December. Delgado was 4-9 with a 4.37 ERA last season.
Rookies Corbin, Skaggs and Trevor Bauer came into camp last spring for more of a look-see than a shot at a job, although Corbin made such an impression that he was the last pitcher sent out, the D-backs opting to keep Wade Miley as a long reliever and keep Corbin starting in the minor leagues.
This time, one spot is open, and all three want it.
“My mindset is the same – coming in, working my hardest, going to show them what I got and hope for the best,” Skaggs said. “I’m excited about it. Corbin and I are really, really close. He’s my best friend on the team. I don’t know Delgado, but I’ve faced him before. I know it is going to be good. It’s going to be a solid competition,.”
Said Corbin: “They give you every opportunity here. It’s what you make of it. I’m going to continue thinking the same way.”
Corbin, 23, made four starts against San Francisco last season, two of them quality, and said experiencing both success and failure can be a learning tool.
“We see them a lot of times during the year, and those are big games to win,” he said. “Just being able to go out there and show you can do it means the next time, if you don’t do so well, still in the back of your head you can still do it. That is something I want to continue learning from.”
He features a fastball and a slider/curve breaking ball, and he admitted to nibbling too much when he first arrived, often a newbie’s default setting. That did not last.
“I was probably scared to give up a hit instead of just going after them and letting them put the ball in play,” Corbin said. “That’s something that I learned last year, and something that I am going to continue into this year. The biggest thing last year was just being up here and being myself.”
Skaggs, 21, won his major league debut in the first game of an Aug. 22 doubleheader against Miami and gave up one run or fewer in his first three outings, including a start against the Los Angeles Dodgers in his hometown. The long season appeared to catch up with him down the stretch, however, and the D-backs held him out the final two weeks, although he did not want to sit.
“In the long run, it helped me out because I was tired,” Skaggs said. “My body was tired. My arm was tired, so I think it was the best decision for me and the team.
“It also made me hungry, though. It made me want to come in here and show everybody that’s not what you are going to get from me. You’re going to get a completely different pitcher. I was definitely frustrated, because I’m not used to pitching like that. I’ll be a lot different. I’m going to come out and open some eyes. If people think I pitch like that, it is going to be completely different. I’m excited to show people what I can do.”
With his three-pitch repertoire, Skaggs is considered by scouts to have the highest ceiling of the three. He was 9-6 with a 2.87 ERA between Class AA Mobile and Class AAA Reno last year, when he struck out 116 in 122 1/3 innings.
Delgado, 23, has been here before. He made the Atlanta rotation out of spring training last year and pitched regularly through July 4, giving way later in the month to Kris Medlen.
“For me, it’s normal. I did that last year, too, trying to compete for that spot,” Delgado said. “It’s not something I am so focused on. I just try to do my job.
“Just being with the big leagues, the crowds, the stadiums, it helps you a lot for the next year. You learn about that, you learn all about the game situations. You feel comfortable the next year.”