Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo were more than happy to talk about baseball again.
The only problem for the Arizona Diamondbacks general manager and manager? They had no idea how to answer any of the questions posed by the media. There’s never been anything like the 2020 baseball season—on and off the field.
In a pair of Zoom conference calls, Hazen and Lovullo used several different versions of “We don’t really know that—We’re going to be trying to figure it out as we go.”
Even something as simple as lineup construction will be complicated in 2020. For the first time in its 144-year history, the National League will be using the designated hitter this season. Do they turn Carson Kelly into a full-time DH, or do they want him to catch as much as possible? Putting him behind the plate could improve his defense for a 2021 season when pitchers will hit again. The other option is to use more players at the position, giving them a rare break in a season with 60 games in 66 days?
“Don’t hold me to this, because everything is changing, but I would imagine we will start with some kind of rotation at DH, given the way our roster is constructed,” Hazen says. “There’s obviously a chance that we could end up with a full-time DH if somebody really steps up and does a great job at the position, but we’ve got a great deal of versatility on our roster. I imagine we’re going to use that to walk into the season with some kind of rotation.
“Whether that’s based on matchups or something else, I don’t know.”
Of course, with the DH being used in all games this season, Madison Bumgarner won’t be a part of the offense. While he doesn’t hit like a position player—a .177 batting average wouldn’t keep anyone in the majors for long—it’s a significant additional talent. His 19 home runs in 594 career at-bats mean opposing pitchers can’t afford to lose focus against him.
“I’d love to get rid of the DH and play by National League rules every time Madison Bumgarner pitches, because his bat gives us an incredible advantage over every other team in the major leagues,” Lovullo says. “I think of him the same as Zack Greinke. Zack’s a great pitcher, but he impacted games with his offense. Having an extra bat in your lineup like Zack and Madison is a great, great edge.”
Lovullo knows Bumgarner will be lobbying for pinch-hitting opportunities but thinks his ace will have to wait a year.
“Madison is going to be one of our five starters, and I want him to focus on that right now,” he says. “As far as his hitting, I think we might have to compartmentalize that for a little while. I don’t want to take anything off the table, because that guy can bang the baseball, but I think we can think about that again in 2021.”
Bumgarner might still have a role in games that go deep into the night, but another rule change will eliminate almost all of the sport’s marathons. Teams will start each extra inning with a runner on second base—the hitter who made the final out of the previous inning—so scoring should be commonplace.
“It is a whole different realm of strategy than we’ve ever seen in this league,” Hazen says. “There’s been some experimentation with it in the minors. We’ve seen it internationally, but it is certainly something that’s going to get a lot of our attention because you’ve instantly got a runner on second. What are you going to do about him?”
The change will end games as quickly as possible, but Hazen thinks it will be fun for the fans.
“Any time you add strategy into our game, I think it adds something fascinating to the sport,” he says. “I understand why some people don’t like it—it isn’t a traditional part of the game—but I think fans enjoy new things in some cases.”
There’s a lot more Hazen and Lovullo have to deal with—the lack of a minor-league season means they will be limited to a pool of 60 players, most of whom won’t have any games to play.
However, none of it matters unless they can put together a healthy roster to start the season. The Diamondbacks have been lucky thus far, with only two positive COVID-19 tests and none at their Salt River Spring Training complex. That could change in a hurry with Arizona’s struggles against the virus.
“I am hopeful we are going to be able to pull this off, but we all understand that we are in a unique time and place that’s not like anything we’ve ever faced before,” Hazen says. “Believe me, the protocols we’ve received from Major League Baseball are very restrictive in many ways, because we need to find ways to minimize the spread of the virus.”
Lovullo and Hazen are going to make sure the players and support staff realize precisely what is on the line.
“This virus doesn’t miss anybody, so I’m going to make sure I diligently work through my messages to the coaching staff, the players and the traveling party,” the manager says. “There’s a system in place, and if we do what we’re supposed to do, we can tame this beast and play baseball for our fans. Hopefully, we can bring them some incredible happiness—there hasn’t been much of that lately.”
That will be a challenge for every Major League team, but Lovullo is painfully aware of the coronavirus’ impact on Arizona.
“There have been spikes lately, and I don’t know the exact numbers, but we’re aware of people testing positive in our organization and our industry,” he says.
“That should be a warning to everyone, but this doesn’t miss. If you don’t do exactly what you are supposed to do, whether it is wearing a mask or washing your hands, it will catch up with you.
“We have to respect and make sure we don’t make Arizona another statistic by having players down after testing positive.”
However, if everything works out, Hazen will finally get to see the results of a winter’s work.
“The hardest part of all this is I think we put together a pretty good team in the offseason and we haven’t gotten to see it compete,” he says.
“I’m glad we’re going to be able to do that and bring baseball back for all of the fans.”