Following his injury-plagued 2018 season when he had surgery on his left shoulder in August to repair fraying in his rotator cuff, Jake Lamb was deemed healthy and at full-strength. He was looking forward at being one of the clubhouse leaders and the captain of the infield and was ready for a full campaign of baseball. That all changed last month when Lamb was placed on the injured list. He is supposed to be out for six to eight weeks, and Christian Walker is currently playing his position.
Before the Start of the 2019 Season
Lamb arrived at spring training ticketed to be Paul Goldschmidt’s replacement at first base. A third baseman by trade, Lamb spent all of camp learning the ins and outs of playing first base. Even Goldschmidt gave him a few pointers on how to handle playing the position. He was eager to get back to the form of his 2017 breakout season, when he played in 149 games, hitting 30 homeruns with 105 RBIs, and was an MLB Player of the Week. He even made the NL All-Star team. The 2019 season was supposed to be the year the he took back a consistent spot in the lineup. However, just eight games into the season, he went down with a quad strain. Arizona placed him on the injured list and expected him to miss six weeks of action. People were not only saying the Diamondbacks and Jake Lamb just “can’t seem to catch a break,” but this will be “tough for them to stay at .500” and “it will be a long season.”
What Has Happened Since the Injury
However, baseball is known for its surprises. One of those surprises is Arizona’s offensive performance. Stepping in for the injured Lamb, Christian Walker, who was going to see action only against left-handed pitching and an occasional start, ranks among the most productive first basemen in most offensive categories. Starting third baseman Eduardo Escobar is in the top 10 at his position in offense as well. Even utility player Wilmer Flores, who was going to see action at first base on occasion, has pulled his average up from around .200 to .263. The team is certainly holding its own and is playing competitive baseball, especially on the road.
How Jake Lamb Has Progressed
The past two weeks Lamb has made significant progress with his injured left quad. He has been increasing his activity. After some straight-ahead running, he felt very good, with no pain. He also kept his timing at the plate by hitting off a high-velocity pitching machine. A rehab assignment will begin soon, which brings him that much closer to a return to the Diamondbacks’ roster. Lamb hopes it is a quick rehab that enables him to make a relatively seamless return to the lineup around the second week of June.
What a Healthy Jake Lamb Means for the Diamondbacks
A healthy Lamb poses a good problem for the Diamondbacks. They have too many good players. For Lamb to play, however, one of the three guys mentioned above would have to sit more often. Walker is performing well at first and at the plate. In April, the team was in the process of reintroducing Lamb to more time back at third base due to Escobar’s slow start. Now, however, Escobar is back to hitting the way he did last year in Minnesota —which led the Diamondbacks to trade for him. Wilmer Flores has been a limited defender, but his contact skills at the plate have been invaluable recently.
A Dilemma for Torey Lovullo
So, what does Manager Torey Lovullo do? Will we see an all-out “juggling act” with this infield? If Lamb is at first, it would mean fewer at-bats for Walker. If he’s at third, it would mean fewer at-bats for either Escobar or Flores. Does Escobar move to second base fulltime? That means fewer games at second base for Ketel Marte, who fills in to allow the speedy Jarrod Dyson to get some valuable playing time. If Marte becomes fulltime in center field, Dyson, who is also playing well, will get less playing time.
Just like any good manager, Lovullo will definitely mix and match the lineup on a daily basis to get the best lineup against the opposing team’s starter. We also know Lovullo is a player’s manager and a great communicator. He understands the concerns players have about getting out of rhythm at the plate with more or extended time off. Will it benefit the guys that they get more rest? Other than a minor slump last week at home against the Braves in which they lost three of four, the offense has been great. It is certainly going to take some creative lineup scheduling by Lovullo to make sure guys are fresh. He’s also going to need to make sure they understand why and how his plan is going to work.
When Jake Lamb Returns
A healthy Lamb can only benefit the team. If we know Torey Lovullo, he will make room for Lamb, even with the current infield doing well offensively. Lamb just gives him another weapon in the team’s arsenal. When Lamb does make it back and hits like the rest of the team is hitting, don’t be surprised to find the Diamondbacks in the run for a playoff spot after the All-Star break.
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