Confident, patient Diamondbacks face Braves (Jul 25, 2017)

BY AP • July 25, 2017

PHOENIX -- The Arizona Diamondbacks still lead the National League wild-card race, even if they don't look like the same team that was 22 games above .500 on June 27.

That's what a stretch of 14 losses in 20 games will do to a team. But first-year manager Torey Lovullo stayed as patient as can be during that downturn.

No roster shakeups. No pitching-staff overhauls. No public dressing down of players.

Now, the payoff may be coming, if the Diamondbacks' 10-2 win over the Atlanta Braves on Monday night is any indication. The teams play the second game of a three-game series Tuesday night.

"I'm watching the same group of guys do the same thing every single day. Nothing is really changing in our clubhouse," Lovullo said. "I think we all understand we were playing a special brand of baseball and winning a lot of games, and we enjoyed that for as long as it was coming to us."

When the winning wasn't happening nearly as often, Lovullo saw no less attention to detail, no less preparation, no diminishing commitment to winning.

"Seasons are full of ups and downs. We were aware of that possibility. We're not playing lousy, awful baseball. We're just getting beat," Lovullo said. "When that happens, I'm OK with that. I just want us to digest it, get rid of it and get ready for the next day. I think we've been doing this this entire time."

His reward for being patient is finally getting to see what could be one of the majors' best batting orders. Power-hitting J.D. Martinez was added from the Detroit Tigers, and former All-Star A.J. Pollock finally is getting comfortable after missing more than 40 games with a groin injury.

Martinez hit a long, three-run homer Monday in his first full game with Arizona, while Pollock -- hitting .500 in his last five games -- drove in four runs with a two-run homer and two doubles.

"If we get everybody clicking, it's going to be pretty scary," Pollock said.

The Braves (47-51), like the Diamondbacks (57-42), are much improved after both teams lost 93 games last season. However, the two franchises are taking different approaches as the dog days of August near.

While the Diamondbacks recently picked up a big bat, Martinez, the Braves made a salary-shedding move Monday by dealing left-hander Jaime Garcia, one of the best starters still on the market, and catcher Anthony Recker to the Minnesota Twins for 19-year-old pitching prospect Huascar Ynoa.

While Garcia was an asset to the Braves -- left-handed starters always are -- so is the estimated $4.5 million that Atlanta saved in the trade. That could help them acquire a starting pitcher who was more than the rent-a-player that Garcia was this season.

For now, they will send right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (8-5, 3.87 ERA) to the mound Tuesday night at Chase Field to oppose Arizona right-hander Taijuan Walker (6-4, 3.61 ERA).

Foltynewicz has five career starts against Arizona, going 0-1 with a 5.97 ERA. Despite the high ERA, he has 31 strikeouts and only six walks against the Diamondbacks in 28 2/3 innings.

Since Foltynewicz took a no-hitter into the ninth inning June 30 at Oakland in a 3-1 Braves win, he has given up eight earned runs in 17 2/3 innings and hasn't lasted longer than 6 1/3 innings in three starts. However, Atlanta won all three, and Foltynewicz got the decision in two, including a 6 1/3-inning, three-run outing Thursday against the Dodgers.

"I got away with mistakes here and there, but they hit some good pitches, too," Foltynewicz said after Atlanta ended the Dodgers' 11-game winning streak with a 6-3 decision. "Overall, a good night."

Walker will face the Braves for a second successive start -- and the second time in his career. He hasn't started since giving up two runs and five hits over six innings in what became a 4-3 Arizona loss at Atlanta on July 14.

He missed his last scheduled start Thursday in Cincinnati so he could join wife Heather for the birth of a son.

"We're excited for him, he's here and rested and really excited for him and Heather, and he's excited to get back into his routine," Lovullo said.

Walker is looking for his first victory since June 21 at Colorado. He has given up three earned runs or fewer in 10 of his past 11 starts, but he is 0-1 in his past four starts.

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