Former Reno Aces are being called upon to spark the struggling Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Diamondbacks have begun their 60-game shortened season with new faces in the starting lineup, several of whom are former Triple-A Reno Aces. Arizona is last in the National League West division at 3-8. It has mustered just 29 runs all season.
Manager Torey Lovullo lamented: “We’ve had some early games where we were not doing our job and things sped up on us. Sped up on us to the point where we finally got our hands on one thing and the opposition took advantage of something else.”
With the offense lacking and struggles on the mound, former Reno Aces have gotten the call. 2017 Pacific Coast League MVP Christian Walker is batting .306 with a team-best six RBIs. He hit a career-high 29 homers in 152 games with the Dbacks last season.
Ildemaro Vargas has appeared in seven games with two starts at first base. Primarily a middle infielder, Vargas had just one start at first base in the minors in 2014 when he was with the Advanced Class-A Palm Beach Cardinals. The Aces’ all-time hits leader has three hits in 19 at-bats with Arizona.
Speedy Tim Locastro has scored two runs in five games. Locastro, 28, hit .301 with eight home runs and nine stolen bases in 31 games with Reno in 2019.
Alex Young has a 2.25 ERA and six strikeouts over four innings. Stefan Chricton has a spotless 0.00 ERA in five games and 3.2 innings. Taylor Clarke has a 4.05 ERA in two games.
A pair of Aces made their MLB debuts with the Dbacks this season. Right-hander Taylor Widener made his big-league debut on July 25 in relief against the San Diego Padres, zipping a 95 mph fastball past Trent Grisham for his first career strikeout. Widener led the Aces with six wins and 109 strikeouts last year.
Infielder Andy Young was called up to Arizona on Aug. 1. He made his major league debut as a ninth inning substitution at second base that same night against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Young, 26, hit a career-high 29 home runs and 81 RBIs in 133 games between Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Reno last season.
Searching for some offense, Lovullo hopes Young can be an impactful bench bat against lefties and righties. He went 2-for-2 with a double and single in Tuesday’s 8-2 loss to the Houston Astros.
“He can smash lefties and righties,” Lovullo said. “But, yes, if you’re going to target something that immediately we can reference, it’s his ability to come in off the bench and be a right-handed hitting slammer.”
To make room for Young and top catching prospect Daulton Varsho on the 30-man roster, first baseman Kevin Cron and outfielder Josh Rojas were optioned to the Diamondbacks’ alternate training site at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Cron, 27, was hitless two strikeouts in four at-bats before being sent down. He led the minor leagues with 39 home runs in Triple-A Reno last season and looked to take advantage of the universal designated hitter addition. Cron made one start at designated hitter, going 0-for-3 with one strikeout.
Lovullo said Cron may be available for the Dbacks throughout the year as he regains his focus in their minor league summer camp.
“It was a hard decision as to who to send down,” he said. “This will give Kevin the ability to go down and get some at-bats in Salt River and get tuned up and hopefully be back with us.”
Rojas, 26, has just one plate appearance before being optioned. He was one of four prospects involved in the Zack Grienke trade deadline deal to the Houston Astros. He played in eight games with the Aces last season, batting .514 with three home runs and 14 RBIs.
MLB rosters will shrink from 30 to 28 players on Thursday, Aug. 6 for the rest of the year including the postseason. Taxi squads will increase from three to five players, which could potentially help more Aces make their big league debuts.
Arizona has struggled to find any rhythm thus far, but it opens more opportunities for Reno’s prospects to make an immediate impact.