Linking productive at-bats continues to elude D-backs

In outing a basic approach, manager Torey Lovullo of the Arizona Diamondbacks asks each player not to try to do too much but hand off to those down the line. The idea is to ask players to manufacture runs and connect in a progression where productive innings are realized.

Early in the season, that philosophy worked well and especially true from an offensive vantage. Over the first month of the season, key hits have resulted, and the Diamondbacks were among NL leaders in team batting average, extra-base hits, runs scored and slugging percentage. That kind of production has dried quickly.

Though traffic on the bases is still created, that important hit or vital RBI has been dramatically absent. In Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves before 27,460 in Chase Field, the Diamondbacks had ample opportunities and failed. In concert with banging out 14 hits and leaving 11 runners on base Sunday, the offense could not take Lovullo’s creed and link at-bats in a constructive and productive manner. The result was another arduous effort and the kind of game destined to evaporate a team’s energy.

While the Diamondbacks, as Lovullo likes to point out, will continue to grind at-bats, there is worry coming from the middle of the line-up. A growing concern could develop about first baseman Christian Walker.

Terribly productive over the first month of the season, Walker has woefully slumped. After 1-for-5 afternoon Sunday, Walker’s batting average, once well above well above .300, dropped to .286. During Sunday’s defeat, of which the Diamondbacks losing streak reached three, Walker left eight runners on base during his first three at-bats.

Walker’s lack of recent production caused Lovullo to offer an analytical explanation.

“When you face teams that can put balls in certain areas and attack some limitations, you need to make some adjustments as well,” Lovullo told Fancred after Sunday’s game “Christian doesn’t need to make wholesale changes. He only needs to make slight adjustments. He’s coming out of the zone too much, He’s trying to do too much with every at-bat. He needs to let the pitches come to him and let the at-bats take place and develop. He’s trying to get through as quickly as possible.”

Walker’s drought seems prolonged. Coming into Monday’s home game with the Pirates, the native of Norristown, Pa. has one RBI for 19 games played in Chase Field this season. Since April 25, Walker has driven in only one run. On Sunday, he struck out three times, (twice with the bases loaded) and grounded into a double play in five plate appearances.

If Walker continues to struggle, pitcher Zack Godley may be back in Lovullo’s good graces. Banished to the bullpen two weeks ago, Godley started Sunday, lasted two prescribed innings, and threw 39 pitches. Afterward, Godley told reporters he was strong and industrious.

“I felt awesome,” he told Fancred. “Felt good and threw pitches where I wanted them to land. Even the hit by Ender was where I wanted to locate. He just put a good swing on it.”

The reference to Ender was a second-inning single from Ender Inciarte that drove in the initial Atlanta run and eventually pushed Godley’s season mark to 1-3. Though he pitched only two innings, that was long enough to absorb the defeat.

Another transaction …

After Sunday’s game, the Diamondbacks optioned pitcher Jon Duplantier back to Triple AAA Reno. Touched for three runs and a 56-pitch effort Sunday against Atlanta, Duplantier is going back to the minors to be stretched out.

Before Monday night’s home game with the Pirates, the Diamondbacks will make a corresponding move to the active 25-man roster.

On the science of rehabilitation …

Through the opening month of the season, two players sustained similar injuries.

Cather Alex Avila and infielder Jake Lamb both went down in early April with a strained quadriceps. The road back for each player may different.

Avila returned to the active roster on May 11, but Lamb remains in rehabilitation. Because these players occupy different positions on the diamond, and demand implantation of different defensive skills, the recovery period is different.

At this point, Lamb does not appear to be ready any time soon. When asked about Lamb’s progress in recent discussions, manager Torey Lovullo merely said Lamb is progressing on schedule but has not identified a timetable where Lamb could resume baseball activity.

“From the knees into the chest area, you need to be really strong and able to make dynamic movements,” Lovullo told Fancred before Sunday’s game. “We have to make sure Jake is in a good spot at all times. He has his own set of challenges, like moving laterally and quick movements, and firing in all different directions. Alex might be a little more predictable with squatting and the occasional blocking. They are both in the area of the body that you have to closely monitor and fully recover.”

Next …

The Pittsburgh Pirates roll into the desert for a three-game set, and their only visit to the desert this season.

In the opener Monday night, it’s lefty Robbie Ray (2-1, 3.30 ERA) taking on righty Nick Kingham (1-0, 5.94). On Tuesday night, look for Luke Weaver (3-1, 2.98) to oppose righty Joe Musgrove (1-4, 4.20). In the series finale on Wednesday afternoon, Zack Greinke (5-1, 3.16) takes on righty Chris Archer (1-2, 4.33). The Giants follow with a three-game, weekend set to close the current homestand.

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