Back in the bigs
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Medford native Braden Shipley says he has gained about 10 pounds since last season and is up to about 200 pounds.
Add on his previous major league experience in 2016, and the right-hander feels he is a different pitcher this year for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I got a lot stronger this offseason, and gained some weight,” said Shipley, 25, standing in the Arizona clubhouse at Nationals Park. “I am able to move freely on the mound now. My legs are stronger, my upper body is stronger. I am confident and there is nothing to be afraid of.”
North Medford High graduate Shipley, who began this season at Triple-A Reno, Nevada, was called up to make his first big league start of the year here on Thursday afternoon against the first-place Washington Nationals.
The Nationals entered the game leading the National League in several offensive categories, including team batting average (.290) and team slugging (.497).
Shipley, going up against two-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, went four innings plus one batter in the fifth. He gave up five hits and three earned runs with six walks and two strikeouts and was tagged with the loss as Arizona fell 4-2 to Washington.
“For the most part, I was throwing the ball where I wanted to,” said Shipley, who didn’t want to comment about the strike zone. “My stuff felt awesome today, super electric, from the pen until when I finished. I really didn’t pitch the way I tend to pitch, which is get early contact.”
Scherzer had an infield single with the bases loaded and two outs in the second, and his RBI gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Shipley tried to make a barehand play but came up empty.
“That was frustrating,” Shipley said.
The Nationals loaded the bases in the third on three straight walks by Shipley (0-1). Anthony Rendon then smoked a two-run single to give Washington a 3-0 advantage.
Torey Lovullo, the first-year manager of Arizona, didn’t commit to keeping Shipley in the rotation. The Diamondbacks needed a starter after Shelby Miller was injured and is slated for Tommy John surgery May 10.
“The one thing I wanted to say is he came off the mound and battled the entire outing,” Lovullo said of Shipley. “He didn’t give in. He did what he could. He is a guy that spots his fastball and gets ahead.”
His first pitch on Thursday was a 92 mph fastball that leadoff man Trea Turner popped up to the infield for the first out. Shipley then fanned Jayson Werth for the second out on an 81 mph curve and got Bryce Harper to fly out to the warning track in center on a change-up.
“There are a lot of good hitters in this league,” Shipley said of facing Washington. “No matter who is in the box, you have to execute pitches and compete.”
Shipley, the team’s top prospect before the 2016 season, was 3-1 in five starts with a 4.18 ERA with Reno in the Pacific Coast League. He was with Arizona on Wednesday in preparation for his start Thursday on a windy, chilly day in the nation’s capital.
So what is it like to be back in the majors?
“I am just excited to keep the momentum going. I have been throwing well. It is a little different pitching in the PCL with cold weather,” said Shipley, drafted out of the University of Nevada by the Diamondbacks in the first round in 2013. “My stuff was a little bit different and I was trying to figure it out.”
Shipley said it was challenging pitching with Reno.
“It is tough to pitch in cold weather. Your body is consistently trying to warm up,” he said. “That was my hardest thing in my last start (with Reno on April 28). You are never feeling 100 percent down there (in cold weather). I have been keeping the ball down and mixing pitches like I do. I have been working on my mechanics and all of my stuff.”
“My stuff is definitely better and having experience and being up here last year (helps). I better know how to face the hitters and what the hitters have,” he added. “I am feeling consistent this year in all aspects of my game.”
Shipley said he was consistently in the low 90s with his fastball at Reno and would sometimes reach 95.
“I still think I have more in the tank,” he said.
He hopes more in the tank leads to another shot at starting for the D-backs.
“I hope so. We will see what happens,” he said.
David Driver is a freelance writer in Maryland and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com