https://www.gannett-cdn.com/gannett-web/apps/teal/dist/vendor/hls/hls.light.0.12.4.min.require.jshttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/sdkloader/ima3.jshttps://www.gannett-cdn.com/gannett-web/apps/teal/dist/vendor/ias/ias-3.5.1.min.jshttps://www.gannett-cdn.com/gannett-web/apps/teal/dist/vendor/adobe/MediaSDK.2.2.0.min.require.jshttps://www.gannett-cdn.com/gannett-web/apps/teal/dist/vendor/comscore/streamsense-188.8.131.52316.min.jsCLOSEThe disappointment from last season still weighs heavily on Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo. In harsh tones, he places the blame for his club’s mid-season struggles on his shoulders, as well as the responsibility for improvement.
“Last year was a reflection of what kind of leader I was,” he said, “and I don’t want that to happen this year.”
On the surface, it would appear to be a pivotal year for Lovullo. His teams have fallen short of expectations in two of the past three seasons, missing the postseason all three times. His clubs have stumbled at inopportune moments, unable to pull themselves out of lengthy tailspins. Moreover, Lovullo is entering the final year of his contract.
But to hear to Diamondbacks General Manager Mike Hazen talk about Lovullo, he does not seem to be describing a manager on the hot seat. He talks about Lovullo’s steady hand, his baseball acumen, his preparedness, his ability to communicate. Hazen deflects criticism away from Lovullo, redirecting it onto himself and the club as a whole.
And he suggests that the length of Lovullo’s contract isn’t a subject worthy of extrapolation.
“You shouldn’t read anything into that,” Hazen said.
When Lovullo looks back at last year, in which the club went 25-35 over a strange, 60-game season, he sees moments he wishes he would have handled differently.
Without going into many specifics, he talks about trying to “force-feed certain situations” rather than “trusting the process.” He thinks he let the length of the pandemic-shortened season play too much into his and the team’s psyche. He also believes he allowed the COVID-19 protocols to serve as too large a barrier to his ability to communicate with his players, something he vows will not happen this year.
“I’m going to take the blame,” he said, “for why the year didn’t go the way we wanted it to.”
The Diamondbacks endured a 2-18 stretch that spanned from mid-August into September, a period in which the offense seemed to vanish. They have gone through other similar stretches in recent years that have knocked them out of contention.
In 2018, they struggled badly for much of May, recovered, but fell flat again in September, falling out of first place and missing the postseason. In 2019, they surged into contention in early September before dropping eight of 10 to fall out of the hunt.
Lovullo said it is “hard to pinpoint” what has gone wrong during those stretches.
“I think each year is totally independent of one another,” he said. “It’s up to us to continue growing and learning from those mistakes so we don’t allow something like that to happen. We’ve got to get ourselves in a position to just be a good baseball team, not worrying about the outcome and focusing on today. I think that will lead us in the right place, not necessarily worrying about what happened in the past, but I know we learn from it. We’re going to hopefully be better off in the future.”
Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo during spring training workouts on Feb. 14, 2020 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic)
Hazen acknowledges the manager shares “some” blame for the club’s cold streaks.
“And when I say ‘some,’ I’m looking at myself, too,” Hazen said.
He said he and Lovullo have communicated regularly during and after those ruts and have regularly revisited the topic, brainstorming potential causes: Could the roster be assembled better? Could their offensive approach improve? Has fatigue played a part?
“As much as everyone wants to point at the manager in some of those moments … there’s a performance factor, too. I can’t sit here in good conscience and pin a month of May 2018 on the manager. I just can’t do that. If there were things that we all felt were within the control of the manager, then, yeah. And vice versa — if there were things about the roster you could pin on me… But I don’t really feel that’s the case.”
Hazen rejected the idea of placing blame on Lovullo last season, saying he didn’t want to put much stock in such a strange season, the likes of which had never transpired before and likely never would again.
Lovullo, who won the National League Manager of the Year award in 2017 as he led the Diamondbacks to a wild-card berth, signed a two-year extension in January 2019, a deal that extended his contract through 2021.
He was hesitant this week to say much about his contract status, though he dismissed the notion that it would add pressure or serve as a distraction.
“No, none whatsoever,” he said. “I pride myself on eliminating the black noise and focusing on today and moving forward. I’m motivated no matter what the circumstances are around me.”
Hazen said he did not consider it important to work out a new deal for Lovullo before the start of the season.
Said Lovullo: “My intent is to go out and do my job the best way I know how and that’s all I’ve done since I’ve been here in Arizona. Nothing will change that. I’m grateful for the contract I have and it’s up to me to produce.”
Lovullo was vague when asked how he expected to do his job differently this year, but Hazen mentioned the need for the club to “optimize matchups on a daily basis” given the Diamondbacks’ changing roster dynamics.
“From a position-player mix standpoint, one of the things we’ve talked about is maximizing our offensive efficiency,” Hazen said. “That’s being matchup based, maneuvering guys in and out optimally. We pent a lot of time on that this offseason. To the extent that we can add talent from the outside, that’s on me. To the extent that we can maximize the performance of the guys we have, that’s more on the coaches and the manager.”
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