Taylor Clarke and Jon Duplaniter held down the hill for the Triple-A Reno Aces. Now, they’re providing some bite for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ rotation.
Injuries to Dbacks’ starting pitchers Luke Weaver and Taijuan Walker, and Zach Godley’s move to the bullpen opened places in the starting rotation for Clarke and Duplantier. Both hurlers have the stuff to stick on the mound for the foreseeable future.
Clarke, 26, surrendered four earned runs on six hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 3.1 innings in Arizona’s win on Monday against the Philadelphia Phillies. He has a 1-2 record, 5.26 ERA, with 19 strikeouts in five starts with the Dbacks.
The right-hander made MLB history on April 20, recording a three-inning save against the Chicago Cubs. Clarke also had a base hit in his first big-league at bat, becoming the first pitcher since saves became an official stat in 1969 to record a save and get a hit in a MLB debut. Then he was promptly sent back to Reno the next day.
Clarke was recalled to the Dbacks on May 25 and has solidified his spot in the rotation ever since. His four-pitch mix — which includes a low-90s fastball, mid-80s slider and knee-bending curveball — has kept opposing batters whiffing.
On Monday, he struck out left-handed slugger Bryce Harper with a 91 mph fastball that slightly broke away from the plate. Clarke later flashed his low-80s curveball against switch-hitting shortstop Jean Segura, forcing a softly hit ground ball in the third inning.
“He has that look about him that says, ‘No one is going to beat me,’ ” said Aces first-year pitching coach Jeff Bajenaru, who has been with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization nine years as a coach and a player. “Nothing really jumps out at you, but (Clarke) has four pitches that he throws for strikes and he has plenty of ‘velo’ (velocity).”
Like Clarke, Duplantier’s big-league debut was in the bullpen. He also posted a rare three-inning save, with two strikeouts against the San Diego Padres on April 1.
“I didn’t even know I got the save,” Duplantier told Tahoe Onstage this season. “Now, it’s one of the coolest moments of my life.”
Duplantier, 24, was promoted to the starting rotation on May 31 and recorded his first career win against the Los Angeles Dodgers, giving up two earned runs with seven strikeouts over five innings. In seven games with the Dbacks, Duplantier is 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA and 23 strikeouts.
MLB Pipeline’s No. 62 ranked prospect, Duplantier’s unconventional approach on the mound starts with his long-arm, low, three-quarter slot delivery. Once the right-hander winds up, he hides the ball behind his head before he delivers a strike to the plate, a routine he’s developed growing up in Katy, Texas.
“I’ve been throwing this way forever,” he said. “There’s pictures of me at 10 years old throwing the way I throw now. I didn’t realize it was all that weird until one of my teammates told me in college.”
Opposing batters can’t hide from his devastating four-pitch arsenal. He gets ahead of the count with a mid-90s two-seam fastball with plenty of sink that runs off the plate. In two-strike situations, he can deliver a hard-breaking slider to whiff right-handed hitters. Duplantier also has developed a mid-80s change up and effective curve to force ground balls.
“My off-speed stuff is huge,” he said. “Guys are throwing real hard so my slider can and breaking ball can take a load off my fastball and it can add to it. It’s all just a means of keeping the hitter off balance … They have to honor one or both, and they complement each other really nice in the way they move.”
Clarke and Duplantier have seized their opportunity in Arizona, and their solid outings on the mound can pay dividends for the Dbacks down the stretch. They are 2.5 games back from the second spot in the National League wildcard race.
Lamb’s return to Arizona may affect Cron, Vargas
Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Jake Lamb is on a rehabilitation assignment with the Reno Aces after suffering a Grade 2 strain of his left quadriceps muscle on April 5. Lamb injured his quad while legging out a double in the ninth inning on April 3 against the San Diego Padres. He was placed on the 10-day injured list on April 5.
Starting at third base, Lamb was 2-for-2 with three RBIs in the Aces’ 6-4 victory over the Memphis Redbirds on Monday at Greater Nevada Field.
Lamb’s insertion back into the 25-man roster potentially can option first baseman Kevin Cron back to Triple-A Reno. Before Lamb’s injury, he and Dbacks first baseman Christian Walker were forming a platoon at first base.
The Dbacks have their hands full on who to send back down when Lamb is ready to depart from the Biggest Little City.
The 27-year-old Walker is out of minor league options and remains on the 25-man roster. Cron made his Dbacks’ debut on May 24.
Utility infielder Ildemaro Vargas was called back up to the Dbacks. Second baseman Wilmer Flores was put on the 10-day injured list on May 21. But Vargas’ absence would leave holes at second and shortstop instead of a log jam at first base with Lamb, Walker and Cron.
Cron, 26, is making the most of his stay in the show. He launched his first two career homers on June 7 and 8 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Puello living the big-league dream with Angels
Former Reno Aces outfielder César Puello is having an extended stay in the big leagues.
The 28-year-old was called up from Triple-A Salt Lake to the Los Angeles Angels on May 28. He’s batting .452 with three homers and 11 RBIs in eight games and has carved out a role in right field.
Puello had the big-league eye during his 2018 season with Reno. He drew a team-high 35 walks and struck out just 59 times. Now with the Angels, Puello is making the most of his opportunity in the Major Leagues.
Travis Snider launches fifth homer in Aces win
Reno Aces outfielder Travis Snider went 17 consecutive games without a home run, but his solo shot in the seventh secured the Aces’ victory over Memphis.
Snider, 31, went 2-for-3 with one RBI in the win. He has five home runs and 19 RBIs this season. He made a sliding grab in foul territory for the second out in the eighth.
He’s homered in 15 different Pacific Coast League ballparks including Albequerque, Reno, Roundrock, Oklahoma City, Fresno, Colorado Springs, Omaha, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Tucson, Sacramento, Nashville, Memphis, Iowa and Tacoma. Colorado Springs and Tucson are no longer ballparks in the MiLB.
The Aces split the four-game series with the Redbirds and finished the seven-game home stand 5-2 overall.
Reno had seven hits. Lamb went 2-for-2 with three RBIs. Marty Herum went 1-for-4 with one RBI.
Starting pitcher Alex Young tallied his fourth win of the season. The southpaw pitched five innings, giving up three earned runs on four hits with five strikeouts.
Young got ahead of the count with a low-90s fastball. In two-strike situations, he showcased a deceptive changeup that kept baseballs in the infield for most of a breezy 74-degree night.
Aces relievers Ben Taylor, Joey Krehibel and Jimmie Sherfy surrendered just one earned run in four innings of work.
Sherfy, 27, recorded his team-high 10th save in 10 opportunities.
The Aces led 3-2 after the first inning. They plated two more runs in the bottom of the second. Memphis scored one run in each of the fifth and seventh. Snider’s homer in the bottom half of the seventh kept Reno’s lead intact. Sherfy closed the door in the ninth.
Notes: The Diamondbacks and Phillies set a MLB record with 13 combined home runs on Monday. Arizona launched a franchise-record eight home runs. Ildemaro Vargas was 2-for-5 with two homers and three RBIs. The last time Vargas recorded two home runs in a single game was Aug. 19, 2017 against the Las Vegas 51s. … Yasmany Tomás hit his 12th career triple against the Memphis Redbirds on June 9. … There was a paid attendance of 3,390.
On Deck: Reno, 28-36, have an off day before a seven-game road trip. The Aces face the Round Rock Express, Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros, on Wednesday, June 12, at 5:05 p.m. Anthony Vasquez is the probable starting pitcher for Reno.
— Isaiah Burrows