The Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitching could not be more different from the 2016 season. A team that gave up five earned runs per game has turned it around to place second in the league in ERA at 3.45 while keeping the core pitchers intact from last year.
A tweak here: brining in Taijuan Walker, a tweak there: sliding Archie Bradley back to the bullpen. Fernando Rodney coming aboard. A homegrown pitcher stepping up for the injured Shelby Miller in Zack Godley.
These moves weren’t too ground-shaking or taking the league by storm.
The staff, led by Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray in the rotation and Bradley and Rodney in the bullpen, across the board have been better delivering the ball, but the people receiving the ball have also been much, much better.
Many scratched their heads when the Diamondbacks non-tendered Welington Castillo, who hit .264 with 14 home runs and 68 RBIs in 2016. The Snakes went out and signed Jeff Mathis and Chris Iannetta, career .195 and .229 hitters respectively.
Why were they brought in? These new D-Backs catchers are among the league’s best pitch-framers.
“We identified these two guys as their areas of strengths,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “I give them a lot of credit. It’s also game-planning, building trust with a pitcher, so not only are they getting pitches and framing pitches because of how their hands are working. They’re also reading swings on a pretty impressive level, identifying gap, getting the same information that all the pitchers are getting, and then developing a rapport with that pitcher and building trust and it’s been pretty powerful for us.”
Iannetta is 11th in the league in framing and Mathis is 13th, while Welington Castillo did not place among the league’s top 80 framers currently. The framing is huge, but Mathis puts a focus on accommodating his pitchers any way he can.
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“It’s all about making (the pitchers) feel comfortable, whatever it may be,” Mathis said. “Whether it’s in the game, game-planning, blocking the ball, and framing is right up there with all those things. So whatever we can do to make them feel better, feel comfortable, whatever the case may be, we’ll do it.”
For Iannetta, it comes down to one thing.
“I think (framing) is something for the front office guys and analyst guys to figure out, and do the best job that we can and rank as high as we can in the league. From that point, (we will) see how it plays out,” Iannetta said.
These two D-Backs catchers, along with Chris Herrmann who finds himself behind the plate consistently as well (#64 pitch framer), play off of each other to help improve their games and provide perspective when prepping for opposing lineups.
“Just being able to bounce stuff off of (Iannetta and Herrmann),” Mathis said. “It’s two more sets of eyes watching you…their brains, watching the game, going over stuff, seeing what they saw the night before or the week before with the team, it’s been huge for me, and hopefully we can keep this thing going.”
After a stretch where 19 of 25 games were on the road, the Diamondbacks return to Chase Field for series against the Phillies, Cardinals and Rockies.