“It changes my thought process a little bit when it comes to bunting or maybe executing,” Lovullo said. “I like the idea of everybody swinging the bat and scoring more than just one run at a time. When you have the type of hitters that we have that step into the box as far as pitchers, you know they’re going to put a good swing on the ball. It gives me a comfortable feeling.”
The starters entered Saturday with a combined 3.44 ERA, tied for the best in the Majors, and a .155 average at the plate, behind only the Padres in the National League. It’s something Taijuan Walker says the group takes pride in.
“I think we all have good competition with it.” Walker said. “We all want to try and win a Silver Slugger. Zack [Greinke] already has it, so he has bragging rights right now, but me and Robbie [Ray] are in competition.”
Greinke, who won the Silver Slugger in 2013 when he hit .328, has reached double-digit hits for the fifth consecutive year, the longest active streak among pitchers. He entered Saturday batting .172 this year before hitting a double off the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner in each of his first two at-bats.
He’s been topped on his own team by Ray (.260) and Walker (.245), who are first and second in batting average. They’re also in the top four in on-base plus slugging percentage, with Ray’s .602 placing him third and Walker right behind him in fourth at .587.
But Lovullo singled out Walker as someone he’s seen improve over the course of the season. Acquired in an offseason trade from the Mariners, Walker started the year 1-for-16 but has picked up 11 hits in his last 33 at-bats with a double, a homer and five RBIs.
“He hasn’t swung a bat in five or six years. His Spring Training swing was very raw and crude, and now it’s bat to ball,” Lovullo said. “It’s not a perfect swing, but he does a great job of understanding how he’s getting pitched to and making adjustments.”
As for Walker, he’s set a goal for next season now that he feels settled in at the plate.
“From day one, I told myself, ‘I want to be that guy that comes off the bench as a pitcher and gets to pinch-hit,'” Walker said. “Going into next year, I hope I’m the No. 1 candidate for it.”
Outfielder J.D. Martinez (stiff neck) was in Saturday’s lineup after being scratched Friday. He said he first felt it when he woke up Thursday morning, saying he slept wrong. He played Thursday afternoon in Arizona, but the D-backs held him out when he felt it flare up during batting practice Friday in cool San Francisco weather.
“It felt good in the warmth, but then I went outside for BP and it kind of just kept tightening up,” Martinez said. “It didn’t want to stay loose.”
Lovullo stressed the D-backs need him in the lineup, but they’ll be cautious as the postseason nears, adding, “What makes a lot of sense to us is that, if we need a day today so he’s healthy tomorrow and beyond, we’re going to take that day. That’s what I talked to him about yesterday and we’ll see how today turns out as well.”