Collmenter dominates Reds in making history
PHOENIX — Diamondbacks starting pitcher Josh Collmenter did something Thursday night that had been done only once before in team history — by Randy Johnson on May 18, 2004.
No, Collmenter didn’t pitch a perfect game as Johnson did in Atlanta, but he came as close as a pitcher can while giving up three hits.
In a 4-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds, Collmenter hurled the first complete game shutout of his career, facing the minimum number of batters in a nine-inning performance for the second time in D-backs history.
"That was outstanding," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "That’d be pretty hard to top, facing the minimum and throwing a complete game like that as efficiently as he did. … It was just an excellent performance."
Collmenter had been good — no, really good — against the NL Central in his career, better than any other starter in the past decade. His 1.53 ERA against the division was tops among starting pitchers with at least 10 qualifying starts since 1994.
But on Thursday night, Collmenter took his dominance to an entirely different level. The Reds only once had a runner past first base and the D-backs helped Collmenter out with three double plays.
Perhaps most impressive was that Collmenter needed only 94 pitches to mow down the Reds, making for what was unquestionably the most efficient start of his career.
"(Efficiency) is always the key for me. If I can throw my fastball for strikes and let all the breaking stuff and changeup play off of that," Collmenter said. "Then making good pitches down in the zone. If I can stay down in the zone even if I might be over the plate a little bit I tend to get balls off the end of the bat or underneath, some of the high pop-ups."
Collmenter’s pitches themselves weren’t blowing anyone away, and he finished with just five strikeouts. Instead, he let his defense do the heavy lifting with eight outs in the air and 11 on the ground, including all three in the ninth. Not once did Collmenter get to a three-ball count.
"He just had great location," Gibson said. "He was varying speeds, throwing both sides of the plate."
The defense gave Collmenter a couple big assists, with second baseman Aaron Hill making multiple nice plays, including one double play on a hard hit groundball, and center fielder A.J. Pollock providing the play of the game.
Reds first baseman Brayan Pena sat on second base after a third-inning double when Zack Cozart flew out to center. Pena decided to test Pollock’s arm. Pollock’s throw made it to third base on the fly and in plenty of time to nail Pena.
"It was kind of an in between one," Pollock said. "I just kind of figured I’d let it rip and see what happened. I think the whole defense played really well tonight."
Collmenter, too, made sure to credit his defense.
"Every play I could ever ask them to make, they’re going to make," Collmenter said.
While Collmenter’s 27-up-27-down effort did not put him among the 23 major league pitchers to throw a perfect game, it did earn him a spot on an even shorter list. Since official stats have been kept (1914), only 12 pitchers before faced the minimum while allowing three hits. The last time: Roy Oswalt for the Astros on Sept. 11, 2008.
As impressive as the effort was, it didn’t invoke the superstition or awareness a no-hitter or perfect game might. Collmenter didn’t realize until the eighth inning he had faced the minimum, and catcher Tuffy Gosewisch hadn’t noticed until the seventh inning. Pollock didn’t know it until reporters asked him about it.
"I noticed every time I went out there I faced a lefty to lead off, whether it was (Billy) Hamilton or (Jay) Bruce or Pena," Collmenter said. "So I think going out and facing Bruce in the eighth I looked up just to see because at that point you’re kind of aware of what’s going on and what you have to do to get through those guys and set yourself up for 7-8 an a pinch hitter."
Collmenter wasn’t concerned about facing the minimum, though. He just wanted to avoid getting back to the top of Cincinnati’s order and the speedster Hamilton.
The effort was especially impressive against a dangerous lineup that features Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Todd Frazier and Ryan Ludwick. With that kind of ability in the lineup, Reds manager Bryan Price wasn’t pleased with Thursday’s outcome.
"He threw a nice ballgame but we are better than 27 guys batting in nine innings," Price said. "That is beyond unacceptable."
Collmenter’s first career complete game and shutout had to be a special moment for the 28-year-old, especially given his history as a starter. After a breakout 2011 season, Collmenter struggled and was removed from the rotation early in 2012. He became a highly effective long reliever, and this year stepped in to replace struggling starter Randall Delgado.
"It’s unfortunate how it happened," Collmenter said, making note of injuries and teammates’ struggles. "To be able to step in was big for me because it’s fun to get back in the starting role but also what it means to the team that can have guys go and get you into the sixth, maybe the seventh each time."
Gibson, too, put the focus on what Collmenter’s effort did for the D-backs. It gave them their third win in four games and rested the bullpen for the final three games of the series. Still, Gibson was clearly happy for Collmenter.
"I always tell you guys I hope these guys can have validation for their hard work," Gibson said. "This is one of those days."
Only one D-backs position player went hitless in the team’s 12-6 win over the Padres on Wednesday: Aaron Hill, who was 0 for 5. Hill had a much better Thursday, going 3 for 4 with a home run and two RBI.
94 — pitches by Collmenter in his first career complete game, a total 11 shy of his career high in a game.
— Pollock is making a strong case to stick as the D-backs’ regular leadoff hitter. Hitting at the top of the order since the home stand began, Pollock is 8 for 16 with three doubles, a triple a home run and four RBI.
— Thursday marked the D-backs’ second shutout of the season and first against the Reds since May 27, 2006.
— Having played in 33 of the D-backs last 34 games, catcher Miguel Montero got a day off Thursday. Gibson said he wants to keep Montero fresh after a lot of early action, so Gosewisch could see another start or two soon. "He’s done a good job when he wasn’t playing, and now it’s time for him to play a little more," Gibson said of Gosewisch.
Though Collmenter’s outing Thursday wasn’t a perfect game or no-hitter, Montero still had a little fun with Collmenter.
"Tuffy’s asking for a watch!" Montero shouted as Collmenter met reporters.
Gosewisch’s response to the suggestion he’d expect a gift for his hand in the effort: "Don’t listen to anything Miggy says."