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Diamondbacks rotation has problems again, Padres race to another defeat

SAN DIEGO — As Ha-Seong Kim rounded the bases, Christian Walker of the Diamondbacks stood at first base, playing with his glove, his head down. Moments earlier, something bizarre had happened. Walker made a defensive error. The San Diego Padres immediately took advantage of this and cruised to a comfortable victory on Saturday night.

The 13-1 loss was the Diamondbacks' third loss in their last four games, another point in their schedule that fits well with everything they've experienced so far this season.

A few days ago, the Diamondbacks seemed ready to go. Not only had they won four games in a row, but they were also looking more and more like the team everyone expected at the beginning of the season, namely a cleaner and better style of baseball.

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But once again they seem to be on the verge of a regression, something that has happened many times in the first two months of the season.

“After the first night here, we were happy with where we were,” said Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo. “We played at a very high level. For me, it's working from a pitching perspective. If the starting pitcher is healthy and good, we'll be able to win baseball games. That's where we're going.”

After right-hander Ryne Nelson allowed six runs (five earned runs) in 3⅓ innings on Saturday night, it capped a miserable turnaround in the Diamondbacks' rotation. In the last five games, the unit has allowed 21 earned runs with 13 walks and 12 strikeouts in 19⅓ innings.

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It feels like the health of the rotation has caught up with the Diamondbacks for the first time this year, with Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez on the injured list. The starters have had rough patches this year, but they've managed to at least get through innings. Over the last five days, the Diamondbacks have shown neither quantity nor quality.

“I know the names (on the injured list) — Gallen, Kelly and Rodriguez — very well and we know the quality of our throwing arm when they get on the mound,” Lovullo said. “But I want to coach (the current starters) and make sure the guys at the next level can do their job. We miss them. There's no doubt about it, we miss those guys. But I want everyone to take the opportunity and make the most of it.”

A look at the upcoming schedule suggests that momentum could soon reverse – the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago White Sox, two bottom-ranked teams, visit Chase Field next week – but for now, it feels like another example of the Diamondbacks' inability to make the run they needed to turn their season around.

Walker's error opened the door for the Padres to break through in the second inning. Nelson had allowed two consecutive singles to start the inning, but a ground ball to first base looked like a potential double play. Walker picked up the ball, turned to second base and threw it about five feet from the base, his throw flying into left field.

“He didn't make a clean transition,” Lovullo said. “It didn't look like the ball was secure in his hand when he started his forward movement.”

A run was scored on this play and Kim wasted no time in landing a big blow, blasting an 0-1 fastball from Nelson into the left field seats, giving the Padres a 4-0 lead.

It was a rare error for Walker, who had won the National League's last two Gold Glove Awards at first base. (He made another error in the eighth inning when he failed to catch a popup down the right-field line, his first game with multiple errors since 2019.)

“It changed the situation,” Nelson said of Walker's throwing error. “But he made so many good plays for me and saved me countless times. It's not him. It's me. I have to be able to catch him at that point.”

After the Diamondbacks earned a narrow one-point victory in the series opener on Thursday night, the Padres have outscored them 23-4 over the past two days. It's only the second time the Padres have scored 10 or more points in back-to-back games at Petco Park.

“It happens in baseball,” Lovullo said. “We've lost a few games in a row. We can save a series tomorrow, and that's our expectation.”

Pavin Smith makes his pitching debut

With the score spiraling out of control at the end, the Diamondbacks brought in first baseman/outfielder Pavin Smith to pitch the eighth inning. After a rocky start – he hit the first batter and walked the second – Smith, pitching for the first time since high school, got a flyout and a double play ball from Luis Arraez to secure a scoreless inning.

“Very nerve-racking,” Smith said. “I know what these pitchers are going through right now. That zone looks — that plate looks really small from 20 yards away. From the batter's box, it looks big.”

Smith was recruited by Virginia as a two-way player, but injured his elbow and never made it to the mound.

Scott McGough starts on Sunday

The Diamondbacks will start reliever Scott McGough in the final game of the series on Sunday, manager Lovullo said.

Lovullo indicated that the club is in the process of making roster changes, possibly to add a pitcher who can throw multiple innings in Sunday's game.

“We have to be as creative as possible and find ways to compare and break down this series,” Lovullo said.

The most likely candidate for the team is left-hander Tommy Henry, who spent the last month at Triple-A Reno.

Anna Harden

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