The Diamondbacks already have been leaning on their young position players in recent weeks. Manager Torey Lovullo suggested they could push even harder in that direction over the season’s final five weeks.
During his media session on Wednesday, Lovullo was asked about his decision to play veteran infielder Asdrubal Cabrera as much as he has recently, starting him in 16 of the past 20 games. He was also asked if he plans to alter the playing time balance.
“I am looking to change that a little bit,” Lovullo said.
Lovullo intimated that the time had come — in his mind, at least — to start informing his veteran players that their playing time would further diminish. He said it is the kind of transition that works best when it happens gradually, in no small part because he doesn’t think it is always wise to throw young players into the fire right away.
“I think there’s a method to that,” he said. “I think rather than just totally jump the shark and flip it all in one day, I think there’s a gradual buildup and that’s necessary for a young player to continue learning at the right pace. I think we’re ready to take it to the next level in a couple of different situations.”
He did not say who he was referring to, but the only young players currently on the roster that aren’t already getting everyday at-bats are infielders Josh VanMeter and Drew Ellis. Both have been playing semi-regularly, with VanMeter in the lineup primarily against right-handers and Ellis against lefties.
Of the two, VanMeter seems most ready for an expanded role. He entered Wednesday with a .263/.337/.488 line since the All-Star break. Moreover, he has had no trouble against left-handed pitching, actually hitting them (.934 OPS) better than righties (.651 OPS).
Ellis has yet to show he can hit at the big league level. He was just 7 for 51 (.137) with 21 strikeouts.
Lovullo noted that regular playing time for the rest of the season could amount to another 75-100 at-bats per player, which would represent valuable evaluation opportunities for the organization heading into the offseason.
Lovullo said the veterans tend to provide the sort of stability that young players do not.
“I like to insert them to make sure that there’s a lot of controlled at-bats or controlled plays on defense,” Lovullo said. “I think it’s a challenging balance, but I’m going to try to figure out the best balance to help us win baseball games.”
Waiting on Weaver
Right-hander Luke Weaver had been a candidate to start a game on this road trip, but now that he has been caught up on COVID “close contact” protocols, his next time on the mound will not come in a big league game, Lovullo said.
Weaver began a seven-day quarantine period on Friday. He will have to be cleared in order to resume baseball activities with the team or at a club facility.
“He can’t go eight or nine days without pitching and then jump onto a big league mound,” Lovullo said. “We’ll get him into some kind of a live situation, see how he feels and then evaluate him and move forward.”
Right-hander Merrill Kelly, who had a positive COVID test earlier this month, has been cleared by the commissioner’s office to resume activity. Lovullo said that doesn’t mean Kelly will immediately return to the roster. “It’ll be a slow process,” Lovullo said.
Follow Nick Piecoro’s coverage all season. Get unlimited digital access today for only $1 a week. Special introductory offer for new subscribers only.