D-backs bank on improvement from within after 110-loss year

PHOENIX (AP) — Madison Bumgarner was a key part of three World Series championship teams during his time with the San Francisco Giants, so he knows what good baseball looks like.

He was also a part of the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, so he’s well aware of what bad baseball looks like.

Bumgarner said being on opposite ends of the hardball spectrum has taught him there’s not much separation between the MLB’s best and worst teams. The veteran left-hander believes the Diamondbacks — despite their 110 losses last season — can make a big jump in the standings in the NL West.

“Everyone knows we’re not the team we showed we were last year,” Bumgarner said. “We could come out here and accidentally do better than that.”

If Arizona is going to be better in 2022, the improvement is going to have to come from several players who were on last year’s roster. While NL West rivals like the Los Angeles Dodgers (Freddie Freeman) and Colorado Rockies (Kris Bryant) made big splashes in free agency, the lower-budget Diamondbacks were content to make smaller upgrades, particularly to their bullpen.

Manager Torey Lovullo returns for his sixth season and will try to build a better offense around youngsters like Daulton Varsho, Pavin Smith, Josh Rojas and Ketel Marte, who recently signed a $76 million, five-year deal that begins in 2023.

Bumgarner, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly lead the rotation while the D-backs brought in veteran relievers Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy to handle save situations.

It remains to be seen if that’s enough to hang in the NL West. Lovullo said he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“Winners find a way to learn from their mistakes and turn that into growth,” Lovullo said.

NEW LOOK

The one major place the Diamondbacks spent some money on new additions was in the bullpen, where they added Melancon and Kennedy.

Melancon is a four-time All-Star who had 39 saves for the Padres last season. Kennedy had 26 saves last season while splitting time with the Phillies and Rangers.

RARE COMBO

The 25-year-old Varsho was arguably Arizona’s best player during the second half of last season, batting .290 with 10 homers with 14 doubles and 31 RBIs in his final 60 games.

Varsho also has one of the more interesting defensive profiles in baseball, specializing at catcher and in center field. He’s a solid defensive catcher, but his bat is so valuable it might make more sense to leave him in the outfield where he can play on a daily basis.

ROOKIES TO WATCH

Seth Beer could break into the lineup at designated hitter or first base after some success in a brief cameo last season. Geraldo Perdomo is an option at shortstop, especially since starter Nick Ahmed is dealing with a sore shoulder. Outfielder Alek Thomas is one of the team’s top prospects and is expected to debut at some point during the season.

Some of the team’s top pitching prospects like Ryne Nelson, Drey Jamison and Bryce Jarvis are also getting closer to the big leagues.

SETTLE ON SECOND

The team’s best all-around hitter over the past few years has been Ketel Marte, who hit .318 with 29 doubles and 14 homers last season despite being limited to 90 games because of hamstring injuries.

Marte is also a gifted defensive player who has bounced between second base, shortstop and the outfield, providing highlight-reel plays at all of them. Even though his versatility is a plus, the D-backs are planning to use Marte primarily at second base this season, hoping the consistency will lead to better health.

MADBUM’S THIRD YEAR

Bumgarner is entering the third season of an $85 million, five-year deal that he signed before the 2020 season.

He was awful in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, finishing with a 1-4 record and 6.48 ERA but had a solid bounce-back season in 2021 with a 7-10 record and 4.67 ERA.

The 32-year-old’s velocity has been slightly higher so far this spring, giving the D-backs hope that even better things are in store this year.

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