Since spring training began, right-hander Drey Jameson did everything he could to land the elusive fifth spot in the Diamondbacks’ rotation. But he was also adamant that he wasn’t going to lose sleep over it.
“I can only do what I can do, and I’m going to do everything in my power.” he said on March 4. “But at the end of the day, I don’t make decisions.”
Ultimately, the decision didn’t go Jameson’s way. The fifth starter job went to his former roommate, Ryne Nelson. And instead of being sent down to start for Triple-A Reno, Jameson is destined for uncharted territory: the bullpen.
“You might know more than me,” Jameson said, when asked about the transition from starter to long reliever.
“I just want to take the ball whenever they call down for me. Or how ever that works. I don’t know how that works.”
For the majority of the spring, it appeared that whoever lost the fifth starter competition would be sent down to Reno and serve as rotation depth should a need arise. Those plans seemingly changed in the past week or so, as manager Torey Lovullo expressed an increasing willingness to use either Jameson or Nelson out of the bullpen.
Ironically, Nelson is the one with all the relief experience. He worked primarily as a reliever for three years at the University of Oregon. Jameson, on the other hand, pitched almost exclusively as a starter at Ball State and has continued in that role since being drafted by the Diamondbacks — with a couple of unique exceptions.
On June 30, 2021, Jameson pitched in relief for High-A Hillsboro after Blake Walston was yanked in the second inning. Last year, he pitched on back of a Luke Weaver rehab start in Triple-A Reno. Outside of those situations, Jameson has spent his entire pro career as a starter.
Despite the novelty of the role, Jameson was as receptive as any manager could hope.
“I don’t give a s—,” Jameson told Lovullo when he heard the news. “I just want to win baseball games.”
Before long, Jameson consulted veteran teammate Andrew Chafin on what it was like to pitch out of the bullpen. Chafin’s response, according to Jameson, was “not very helpful.”
“Just grab the ball, and go and throw,” Chafin told him. “I don’t know what else to tell you.”
On further thought, Jameson found wisdom in those words.
“I kind of like that,” Jameson said, “because, ultimately, that’s what you got to do. Like, there is no thinking. It takes the whole thinking process out of it.”
Similarities with 2017 Archie Bradley
The Diamondbacks’ decision to open the year with Jameson as a multi-inning reliever closely mirrors the choice they made with Archie Bradley in 2017. That year, Bradley was a contender for a rotation spot, but he ultimately lost that battle to Shelby Miller. Bradley went on to assemble one of the best years ever by a Diamondbacks reliever.
“When we were talking about this potential move, Archie’s name came up quite a bit,” Lovullo said. “We felt like Archie had a really good year and pushed himself into a different place because he excelled as a reliever, and I don’t think he’s started ever since.
“We compared that experience a lot, and we felt like Drey’s going to help us out in a lot of areas. He’s going to be used as length. I think, at the end of the day, he’s going to be a starting pitcher. It’s just, this gives a chance to have a very strong bullpen, and that’s what we were looking for with this decision.”
Ultimately, Jameson landing in the bullpen came down to a belief that he gives the team a better chance to win games than the alternative. All public comments from the team still point to a return to the rotation some time soon.
How exactly that would materialize this year is hard to wrap one’s mind around, though. Even in a multi-inning role, Jameson is unlikely to log enough innings to stay stretched out for long. If the team is serious about keeping him stretched out, they would need to send him to Reno to work up his pitch count.
If they do want to go that route, they should probably do it sooner than later. In 2019, the team followed a similar course with top pitching prospect Jon Duplantier, bussing him back to Reno multiple times through the first few months of the season to build up his stamina. He suffered multiple injuries that he was never able to overcome.
Ultimately, there are a bunch of possible outcomes for Jameson. Maybe he doesn’t get used enough, and the team sends him to Reno to preserve his ability to start at some point this season. Maybe one of the D-backs’ starters gets hurt or struggles, and Jameson slides in. Maybe he dominates in the bullpen and stays there long-term. D-backs GM Mike Hazen said on Tuesday that he expects to have a better idea of how things will unfold near the end of April.
It’s worth noting that, back in 2017, Miller lasted only a few weeks in the rotation before needing Tommy John surgery. Even so, the Diamondbacks still chose to keep Bradley in the ‘pen because of how much success he was having; Bradley has been a reliever ever since. It seems doubtful, but we probably shouldn’t rule out the possibility of the same thing happening to Jameson.
Ultimately, despite the many variables that will help determine how his 2023 season unfolds, we can say for sure that Jameson will be in the Diamondbacks’ bullpen on Opening Day. Despite the discomfort that comes with that — and the unpredictability of what’s around the corner — he is grateful for the opportunity and ready for whatever is asked of him.
“I made the team,” he said. “Ultimately, that’s everyone’s goal is to be in the big leagues. And if they think that putting me in the bullpen is going to win us ballgames, and put us in positions to win ballgames, I’m all for it.”
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