Despite crooked numbers, Diamondbacks confident in Tyler Gilbert’s growth

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When Zach Davies went to the injured list last Tuesday, the Diamondbacks were back in a familiar position. Just three days after calling up Dallas Keuchel to fill the fifth spot in their rotation, they needed another answer there.

Like they’ve done all season to this point, the Diamondbacks opted for experience, recalling left-hander Tyler Gilbert from Triple-A Reno to start Tuesday against the Giants. Gilbert, of course, threw a no-hitter in his first major league start last August. He finished the season with a 3.15 ERA.

This year hasn’t been as kind to him. In 16 innings with the Diamondbacks, he has a 7.88 ERA. In 44 innings in Reno, he has a 7.57 ERA with 4.9 walks per nine innings and just 5.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Tyler Gilbert throws during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday, June 7, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Tyler Gilbert throws during the first inning of the team's baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday, June 7, 2022, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

“We all remember what he did last year,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “We need to throw that out the window. We need to just make this year independent of what he did last year.”

Lovullo continued to mention Gilbert’s growth in recent weeks as justification for his call-up — which came despite prospects Tommy Henry and Ryne Nelson both having better numbers in Reno.

Gilbert, whose fastball sits around 90 mph, is not and likely never will be a high strikeout pitcher. But last year, Lovullo appreciated his ability to attack batters and finish at-bats after two or three pitches. Early this year, Lovullo saw Gilbert stray from that approach before improving over the past month.

“Commanding the baseball. Putting it on the plate. Evacuating the zone at the right time,” Lovullo said, relaying reports from the Diamondbacks’ minor league staff. “… We talked to him the last time about getting the at-bat over with, attacking the zone and making quality pitches from the first until the last. And he's started to get that done.”

Over his last four starts, Gilbert’s numbers have indeed been better. In that span, he has a 3.98 ERA. However, in his last start in Reno, he walked five batters and only struck out two in 5⅓ innings.

Kennedy out with blood clot

On Monday, the Diamondbacks placed reliever Ian Kennedy on the injured list with an undisclosed calf injury. On Tuesday, Lovullo revealed that Kennedy has a blood clot in his right calf, which is his push-off leg.

Lovullo, who downplayed the severity of the blood clot, described it as “very small.” Kennedy was able to take part in a throwing program at Salt River Fields on Tuesday.

“He's gonna begin taking medication to thin out that blood clot,” Lovullo said. “I don't know what the exact medication is, I don't know what the timeline is, but it could be altitude related. It happened while we were in Colorado, we're not sure. We're gonna look into it. We're gonna try and figure some things out. It just seems like every time we go to Colorado, something happens.”

Lovullo added that the Diamondbacks are “hopeful” Kennedy’s recovery from the blood clot won’t take as long as recovering from a calf strain.

Wendelken designated for assignment

In the corresponding move with Gilbert’s promotion, the Diamondbacks designated reliever J.B. Wendelken for assignment. Wendelken provided a steady presence when the club signed him off waivers last year, but he had a 5.28 ERA in 29 innings this year.

The Diamondbacks could have kept Wendelken and called Gilbert up on Monday, when they recalled reliever Keynan Middleton. Middleton, though, impressed with a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings with Reno, earning a spot on the major league roster. He spent two weeks in Arizona in early May before being demoted.

“We just felt like (Wendelken) was lacking a little bit of consistency,” Lovullo said. “And when you’re making decisions on 95, 97 mph fastballs, guys that have had a lot of success, it means your organization's in a good spot and you're getting better. And that's truly what I believe. He'll land on his feet and he's gonna be in the big leagues again at some point very, very soon. I feel strongly about that. It's just that we needed to create some space for some guys that were ready for this next challenge, Middleton being one of them.”

Wendelken was out of minor league options, necessitating the move to designate him for assignment.

Alcantara back soon

The Diamondbacks claimed Sergio Alcantara off waivers from the Padres on Tuesday. He has not been assigned to the major league roster yet, but he has no minor league options, meaning that move is imminent.

Alcantara started the year in Arizona, but was designated for assignment when Josh Rojas was activated in early May. He was then claimed by the Padres and struggled in 35 at-bats there, hitting just .114 with no extra-base hits. The Diamondbacks, though, are lacking depth in the infield with shortstop Nick Ahmed out for the season.

“His ability to play shortstop,” Lovullo said, explaining the decision to add Alcantara. “His clock defensively. He's a very, very good, smart baseball player on the defensive side. Offensively, I think with consistent reps, he was starting to show us he can impact the baseball. And we need a backup shortstop. We need somebody that can go and play shortstop at a very high level.”

Lovullo continued on to defend Jake Hager, who has been the primary backup infielder over the past month. However, Buddy Kennedy has been the everyday second baseman with Ketel Marte — who is recovering from a hamstring strain — exclusively serving as the designated hitter. That likely leaves Hager as the odd man out. He still has two minor league options, meaning the club can move him freely between Arizona and Reno.

Theo Mackie covers Arizona high school sports, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Rising FC. He can be reached by email at theo.mackie@gannett.com and on Twitter @theo_mackie.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Despite crooked numbers, D-Backs confident in Gilbert’s growth