PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks’ youth movement is official, certified by Elias. With Joe Saunders now in Baltimore, the D-backs will have the youngest starting rotation in the major leagues this turn through. The only way that may change the rest of the season is if another team robs the cradle.
The D-backs believe in their young arms and will let them gain valuable experience the rest of the season, the better to facilitate the transition into 2013. Do not confuse it with a concession.
Tyler Skaggs justified the faith with a second strong start Monday, although a home run by Cincinnati right-hander Bronson Arroyo in the sixth inning spoiled it in the Reds’ 3-2 victory at Chase Field, the D-backs’ fourth straight loss.
Skaggs gave up five hits, walked two hit, hit two others and rushed a throw to first base that cost him an unearned run, but he countered those numbers with the composure of a veteran, not a 21-year old who has spent all of six days in the major leagues.
“Very promising,” manager Kirk Gibson said.
Justin Upton hit his 11th home run and also singled in a run, but Arroyo and the Reds’ shutdown bullpen made the slim lead stand up.
D-backs general manager Kevin Towers believes pitching is the path to winning, and in this market, that means controllable young pitching that can anchor a rotation for three, four, five seasons. It is not the formula Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Dodgers must use, but here in the desert, it is the best option.
The learning curve begins in earnest now.
Skaggs is the youngest of the D-backs’ current rotation, but only Ian Kennedy (27) is older than 25. Top NL Rookie of the Year candidate Wade Miley (25) will start the second game of the series against the Reds on Tuesday and Patrick Corbin (23) will throw the third. Kennedy and Trevor Cahill (24) will pitch the first two games of a series in Los Angeles that starts Thursday.
Add Trevor Bauer (21) and Daniel Hudson, who will be 26 when he comes back from Tommy John surgery next season, and the cupboard is full.
Catcher Miguel Montero already is convinced.
“I see our rotation for next year, I see them as the A’s rotation back in 2002, 2003,” Montero said.
Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito won 57 games for the A’s in 2002 and 45 games in 2003, the storyline that went unacknowledged in Money Ball and the reason Oakland won the AL West title both years.
“I have really high expectations for them. I don’t want to put pressure on them. It doesn’t have to be next year, but I know there is going to be that point where they are going to be really good,” Montero said.
Montero has joked about feeling like a grandpa catching his young staff, and he said early Monday that he is going “to start charging an hour for babysitting.” His kidding is grounded in the belief that the kids have what it takes.
“It’s going to be fun ride with those guys. It’s not just that they are young. They are talented guys. That’s the most exciting thing. They have the potential to be an ace. That’s the key,” Montero said.
Skaggs, the youngest pitcher to make his major league debut this season, threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 27 batters he faced. He struck out five and showed an ability to get out of trouble even without his best stuff. Both his hit batters were on curve balls, one on a pitch that bounced several feet in front of the plate.
He also recovered nicely. Cincinnati was 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, and he got out of a self-inflicted trouble spot in the fourth, after he fielded Wilson Valdez’s comebacker with the bases loaded but misfired on a throw to first. The ball hit Paul Goldschmidt’s glove, and Goldschmidt was charged with an error, but Skaggs blamed himself for moving too quickly. Skaggs got out of the inning on a routine grounder.
“I rushed it in my head. Paul wasn’t there yet, and I panicked because I knew (Valdez) was fast. Made a stupid play that cost us a ball game,” Skaggs said.
Opponents are 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position against Skaggs in his two starts.
“You have to grit your teeth out there,” he said.
The D-backs understand there will be growing pains, as there were Monday. But they are all in.
After Skaggs gave up two runs and stranded seven runners in the first innings, he had his first 1-2-3 inning in the fifth. As Skaggs walked through the dugout, he said, “Where has that been all game.”
“That’s part of it. He’ll fight that the rest of his career. There will be innings when you have wipeout stuff, and there will be innings when you struggle a little bit. But overall, a lot of composure and a real good game from a very young kid.”