Diamondbacks open spring training with pitching questions

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Diamondbacks will spend spring training trying to find a way to fill the void left after slugging first baseman Paul Goldschmidt was traded to St. Louis this offseason.

Filling Goldschmidt’s cleats was not the only question the Diamondbacks faced as they opened spring training Wednesday.

Arizona has two starting rotation spots to fill and must close in on a closer, decisions that will likely last well into spring.

“The best players perform the best when it’s needed,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “I think when you put a little added pressure there and guys are nipping at your heels, it creates a competition and should enhance your ability to get the job done.”

The Diamondbacks entered their third spring training under Lovullo with a hole at the back end of their bullpen after they non-tendered Brad Boxberger’s contract, allowing him to become a free agent.

With Boxberger now in Kansas City, Arizona has three main candidates to fill the closer’s role: Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano and recently signed Greg Holland.

Bradley could be a good fit after serving in the eighth-inning set-up role ahead of Boxberger. He has an upper-90s fastball, pitches aggressively and has the type of confidence managers like to see in a closer.

Bradley had a few rough patches last season while dealing with a cracked fingernail, nearly doubling his ERA from the 1.73 he posted in 2017, but has proven he can be dominant when healthy.

“He learned a lot through the course of last year that to get by on blood and guts and one pitch, it’s OK, he can do it, but I know Archie has a burning desire to be great,” Lovullo said. “That motivates him every day.”

Holland was one of baseball’s best closers in Kansas City, where he earned a World Series ring in 2015. The 33-year-old was released by St. Louis after going 0-2 with a 7.92 ERA in 32 games last season, but was 2-0 with a 0.84 ERA in 24 games after signing with Washington.

“I don’t think of it in terms of an age,” Holland said. “I feel good and healthy, and that’s the most important thing.”

Hirano pitched well for the Diamondbacks last season, his first after 12 seasons in Japan’s Pacific League. Despite the cultural and language differences, the right-hander went 4-3 with a 2.44 ERA and three saves in 75 games with Arizona.

“I saw very early on he was beyond, not his years, but his experience here,” Lovullo said. “There’s so much newness to what was going on around him, he was able to slow it down and stay with who he was, and that didn’t change over the course of the year.”

Zack Greinke is back as Arizona’s No. 1 starter, though he won’t report to training camp until Friday. Greinke asked Lovullo if he could delay his arrival a few days, but has already been throwing in the desert and is a veteran who knows how to get ready for a season.

The Diamondbacks also have Robbie Ray and Zack Godley back to follow Greinke in the rotation, but have two slots to fill with Patrick Corbin and Clay Buchholz gone.

Right-hander Luke Weaver could fill one starting spot after arriving from the Cardinals in the Goldschmidt deal. He struggled with St. Louis last season, going 7-11 with a 4.95 ERA, but the Diamondbacks are hoping he’ll have a bounce-back season.

Right-hander Merrill Kelly of Scottsdale will be in the mix, but he’s never thrown a big-league pitch after spending the past four seasons pitching in Korea.

Right-hander Matt Koch made 14 big-league starts last season and could make the rotation with a strong spring. The Diamondbacks also have a trio of top prospects in Jon Duplantier, Taylor Widener and Taylor Clarke, though they are untested and could start the season in Triple-A.

“I do like the spirit of competition,” Lovullo said. “I do like guys being able to stand on the mound and execute and get the job done when there’s a lot of stimulus. I feel like these guys are going to step up to the situation and tell us what the best situation is to use them during the course of the season.”

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