LOS ANGELES — On the day after their epic, harrowing win Wednesday night in the National League wild-card game, the champagne-soaked celebration of which lasted deep into the Phoenix night, the Arizona Diamondbacks awoke to survey the damage, much like the aftermath of a teenager’s party where the detritus is ankle-deep, the couches are on the front lawn and two of mom’s expensive vases are lying in shards in the corner.
At their workout at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, the eve of Game 1 of their NL Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Diamondbacks began facing the steep consequences of their wild-card win, which has left them at a distinct disadvantage, at least in respect to pitching matchups, against the well-rested, fully staffed Dodgers.
At issue is the fact the Diamondbacks required the services of both of their top starting pitchers, right-hander Zack Greinke and lefty Robbie Ray, to survive the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night — largely because Greinke, their nominal ace, failed to make it out of the fourth inning despite being staked to an early six-run lead.
Rather than having the luxury of holding back Ray, a certified Dodger-slayer in 2017, to pitch Game 1, Arizona had to use him for 2⅓ innings of relief, making him, like Greinke, unavailable to face Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, himself starting on extra rest, on Friday night.
That leaves the Diamondbacks to start Taijuan Walker, a 25-year-old right-hander, in Game 1. Walker, who got the nod over Zack Godley and Patrick Corbin, has zero postseason experience, but he was 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA in three starts against the Dodgers this season, with both of his wins coming at Dodger Stadium.
“I’m excited,” Walker said Thursday, “and still a little tired from last night’s game. It was a wild one.”
When Major League Baseball blew up the wild-card format in 2012, creating the one-off, winner-take-all play-in games in each league, part of the reasoning was that wild-card teams had had it too easy, gaining instant entry into the best-of-five division series, the same as if they had won their division. Under the new format, they not only would have to survive the frantic, win-or-go-home wild-card game, but they also would be diminished by presumably having to burn their top starting pitcher to do so — and in the case of the Diamondbacks, their second best as well.
The advantage, if there is one, is that the Diamondbacks are competition-honed, both from the rigors of the wild-card game and their season-long race just to get there. The Dodgers will have gone four days without a game and essentially had the division title wrapped up by mid-July.
“We have a little more momentum,” Walker said.
Another intriguing decision awaits the Diamondbacks for Game 2. Because both Greinke and Ray threw shortened stints Wednesday night — the former with 58 pitches in a 3⅔ -inning start, the latter with 34 pitches in relief — one of them, more likely Ray, could be available to start Saturday night on two days’ rest. It is an important assignment in more ways than one; the Game 2 starter also would be available to start a decisive Game 5, if needed, on full rest.
“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” Arizona Manager Torey Lovullo said Thursday. Asked whether his preference would be Ray, Lovullo said, “Yeah, I mean, it would be everybody’s choice, right? If he’s healthy and strong and ready. He’s been an elite pitcher all year long, so we’re certainly leaning in the direction of putting Robbie out there as quickly as possible. But we’re going to make sure he’s okay first.”
Ray planned to play catch during Thursday’s workout — his standard day-after routine — and would report how his arm felt afterward. Before the workout, Ray said the toll on his arm from Wednesday’s relief appearance was roughly the same as a normal bullpen side session.
“Obviously, I want the ball,” Ray, a former Washington Nationals farmhand, said Thursday about the Game 2 assignment. “If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t be here. I want the ball, but that’s a decision for [Lovullo] to make.”
No one was happier to see Ray pressed into service Wednesday — and thus unavailable for Game 1 — than the Dodgers. The lefty has dominated them this season, starting five times and going 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA while striking out 53 in 31⅔ innings. The Dodgers’ futility against him was best represented by shortstop Corey Seager, who faced Ray six times and struck out all six. All told, Ray led the NL, among qualified starters, with 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
“We haven’t cracked the code on Robbie Ray,” Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts told reporters this week. “We’re going to have our hands full.”
Nor have the Diamondbacks cracked the code on Kershaw — as if anyone has. He won both his starts against them this season, allowing one earned run in 15⅓ innings — a 0.59 ERA — and for his career he is 14-8 with a 2.55 ERA against them.
Notes: Lovullo said Diamondbacks coach Ariel Prieto made “an honest mistake” in wearing an Apple Watch in the dugout at Chase Field during Wednesday’s wild-card game — seemingly violating an MLB edict that bans internet-connected devices from dugouts during games.
The ban made headlines last month when the Boston Red Sox were found to have used an Apple Watch as part of a sign-stealing scheme against the New York Yankees.
“In no way did it impact the game,” Lovullo said, “and in no way is it going to impact the game tomorrow. It’s just not something we do or believe in.”
An MLB spokesman said the league is looking into the matter but declined to comment further.