NEW YORK — The Diamondbacks made another change in their starting rotation, and manager Torey Lovullo said the club might continue to keep the fifth spot “fluid” for the time being.
Out is left-hander Caleb Smith, sent to the bullpen after he couldn’t retire any of the six batters he faced in the second inning of his only start. Taking his place — for now — is right-hander Humberto Castellanos, whom the Diamondbacks believe matches up best with the New York Mets’ lineup.
“We’re going to use that spot for what we think is the best matchup while everybody is stretched out,” Lovullo said. “Obviously, performance matters. We’re going to continue to let that thing evolve.”
The “performance” part comes into play after Smith pitched well enough in spring training to claim a rotation spot but struggled against the San Diego Padres on Sunday.
“It’s not just matchup-based, it’s performance-based, as well,” Lovullo said. “We’ve got to be mindful of what we’re seeing and we’re got to make sure that everybody is giving us a good chance to win baseball games.”
It is the second season in a row in which Smith was removed from the rotation after making just one start. When it happened last year, he was coming off a shaky spring training performance. That was not the case this year, prompting a question to Lovullo about whether Smith was being treated fairly.
“Sometimes I’ve got to remove the emotion from it and separate myself from fair or not fair,” Lovullo said. “I have my personal feelings about that, but I’ve got to put the best team out there that’s going to help us win baseball games. That’s my focus.”
Castellanos has made two relief outings so far this season, giving up two runs in three innings. He has never faced the Mets in his brief big-league career.
Castellanos, Smith and right-hander Corbin Martin seem like the most likely candidates to start games in the fifth spot given that all three are already in the majors, but Lovullo mentioned the possibility of reaching to Triple-A Reno for a starter, as well.
Clear the mind
Lovullo had Carson Kelly out of the lineup on Friday, saying he wanted to combine Thursday’s day off with another day to help his slumping catcher clear his mind.
Kelly went 0 for 15 with six strikeouts during the first homestand of the season. He also was behind the plate for multiple wild pitches that he was unable to keep in front of him.
“He’s been grinding,” Lovullo said. “You guys are watching the same game I am. There have been some fundamental mistakes and there have been some mental mistakes. He’s a very good catcher and a very good baseball player. I just want to give him a chance to hit the reset button early. He’ll be back in there tomorrow.”
Shortstop Nick Ahmed took eight at-bats at Salt River Fields on Thursday, Lovullo said, in what was his first game action since early in spring training, when he was shut down with recurring shoulder problems.
Ahmed, who said earlier this week his shoulder was feeling much better, was scheduled to play again on Friday. Though he knows Ahmed will want to be back as soon as possible, Lovullo said he would push for him to go on a rehab assignment nevertheless.
“That’ll be my vote,” Lovullo said. “I’m not the only voter in this situation, but I want to make sure he gets himself as ready as possible.”
There was also news for two players out with oblique strains. Outfielder Jordan Luplow was scheduled to play in his first game at Salt River Fields on Friday while infielder Josh Rojas already had begun to swing the bat, a seemingly quick progression for a player who was diagnosed with a Grade 2 strain earlier this month.
“A little bit, yeah, but he’s been feeling really well,” Lovullo said. “Those are the words I’ve been getting the past week. … They’re just using that information and keep pushing him forward.”
Infielder Wilmer Difo received his work visa and reported to Salt River Fields this week, bringing an end to a nearly month-long delay as he tried to secure clearance to travel from the Dominican Republic.
Difo will work his way into playing shape before being sent to Triple-A Reno, farm director Josh Barfield said.
Difo, 30, is a career .251 hitter in parts of seven major league seasons. He would figure to become an option for the Diamondbacks’ roster, particularly at third base if Rojas is still hurt, as soon as he hits his stride.
With the Diamondbacks beginning a stretch of 20 consecutive games without a day off, Lovullo was asked if he would consider going to a six-man rotation to make sure his starters remain fresh. He made it sound unlikely, though he said he would have to watch his position players’ workloads by giving them days off. “I know guys are going to be upset about it, but 20 games in a row is going to be a little bit of a grind,” he said.