When right-hander Rubby De La Rosa locates his pitches, he draws critical raves from Diamondbacks’ decision-makers. Because the organization likes what they call “an electric arm,” the issue for De La Rosa has not been physical but mental. The issue is simply location.
Despite his ability to throw a baseball constantly in the mid to upper 90s, De La Rosa has a tendency to throw right down Broadway, and hitters, at the major league level, jump all over this kind of delivery. Last season, De La Rosa’s location was considered dreadful, and only Kyle Kendrick of the Rockies (33) and James Shields of the Padres (33) gave up more home runs than De La Rosa’s 32 surrendered.
Coming into his start Saturday at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates, De La Rosa, used as starter and long reliever so far this season, dropped three of his first four decisions, and his ERA was over eight runs per game. As if he turned a light switch on, De La Rosa’s game on Saturday dramatically turned, and his effort and production showed the Diamondbacks this endeavor was clearly within his capability.
Going a solid six innings, De La Rosa did what all pitchers try to do, and that’s to give his team a chance to win. The Diamondbacks took advantage of De La Rosa’s productive night, and defeated the Pirates, 7-1 before 32,935 in Chase Field.
Mixing his usually charged fast ball with an effective off-speed pitch, not displayed with such efficiency this season, De La Rosa remained ahead of hitters. For his six innings of work, threw an efficient 91 pitches.
Because manager Chip Hale preaches the necessity to keep the ball down in Chase Field, De La Rosa was a prime pupil. Within his six innings, the 27-year-old native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic allowed only four hit to the outfield. Save a home run from Sean Rodriguez with two out in the second, De La Rosa keep the ball down and on the ground. For his six frames, Pirate hitters grounded out nine times, and De La Rosa struck out six Pittsburgh hitters.
In throwing off-speed pitches are strikes, De La Rosa showed strong command of a combination cutter and slider. In the 91 pitches tossed against the Pirates, 56 were for strikes, and De La Rosa walked only one hitter.
“I’m working a lot my slider,” De La Rosa said. “I want to throw the pitch at anywhere in the count. I’m feeling more comfortable now. I feel better now.”
One area of stark improvement was De La Rosa’s ability to gain a mound presence. While he tends to be emotional and think about nearly every delivery, pitching coach Mike Butcher has encouraged a rapid delivery. Get the ball and throw is the mantra now. The goal is make De La Rosa think less and execute better.
If this was De La Rosa’s strongest effort of the season, Chris Herrmann, his battery mate Saturday, turned in what was nearly a career game. Smacking two extra-bases hits, including a three-run homer in the eighth, his defensive skills played cleanly into the win.
With the Diamondbacks ahead 2-1 in the seventh, Gregory Polanco reached De La Rosa for the only the third Pirates hit off the right-hander. After reliever Tyler Clippard came on for De La Rosa, Polanco took off for second and in the hopes of reaching scoring position. Herrmann was quick on the trigger and gunned down the Pirates’ right-fielder trying to steal. That represented a key out, and Herrmann then took his game to the next level.
Hitting .050 (1-for-20) coming into the game, Herrmann tied the contest in the second with a double off the right field fence, and that scored Nick Ahmed. Later in the fourth, he drew a two-out walk, and then slammed his first home run since last Aug. 15 in the eighth.
“I know my role here, and that’s as a back-up catcher,” he said. “So, when I get an opportunity, I have to take advantage. The home run was a change-up (reliever A. J. Schugel) hung over the plate. I’m working with (hitting coaches Dave Magadan and Mark Grace), and made some adjustments. My goal is to get better each time I swing the bat.”
With the score tied in the third, David Peralta, with two outs, slammed his second homer in as many games into the right field stands. That propelled the Diamondbacks into a 2-1 lead, and De La Rosa, from that point, took control.
A PRETIGIOUS AWARD
Before Saturday’s game, right-hander Zack Greinke received the Players Choice Award as the 2015 Outstanding Player. Greinke was selected by secret ballot of all National League players.
Greinke accepted the award from his new Arizona teammate Paul Goldschmidt, who is the Diamondbacks’ player rep. As part of the award, the Major League Baseball Players Trust will contribute $20,000 to the charity of Greinke’s choice
With the Dodgers last season, Greinke was 19-3, 200 strikeouts and a 1.66 ERA for 222 2/3 innings of work. In the recent off-season, he signed a six-year, $206 million contract with the Diamondbacks.
The weekend set with the Pirates ends with a Sunday matinee at 1:10 p.m. Lefty Robbie Ray (1-0, 1.96 ERA) takes to the hill for Arizona and draws lefty Francisco Liriano (1-1, 4.11 ERA). The Diamondbacks and Pirates have three left this season. At PNC Park in Pittsburgh, the teams will play three games on May 24, 25 and 26.