MLB: A Slow Start for the AZ Diamondbacks
It’s still early in the season, so let’s not draw any conclusions on the slow start that the 2014 Arizona Diamondbacks are off to. But, let’s be honest, they are off to their worst start in franchise history at 2-7. Assuming everything continues this way for the Diamondbacks, they would finish the season at 48-114. How dreadful would that be?
There are a couple of issues that led the team to this bad start. First, their issue with timely hitting with runners in scoring position. In the series with the Rockies over the weekend, the Diamondbacks went 3 for 25 and on the season they are hitting .188 (15 hits in 80 at bats) with two doubles and one homerun and 15 strikeouts. We expect the offense to come around and it will. We have already seen Mark Trumbo start off his Diamondbacks career with a torrid start. Trumbo is on pace to shatter the single season homerun record. His pace is 101 for the season.
But let’s be realistic, Trumbo will not hit 101 homeruns and this team is too good to lose 114 games. I predict they will not even lose 90 games.
The major reason for this slow start is the pitching, particularly the bullpen.
It began last Monday night in front of a capacity crowd that filled Chase Field for the 2014 home opener. The bullpen lost a 7-3 lead, and in the process seemed to have lost its self-confidence. Divisional rival the San Francisco Giants won the game on Buster Posey’s two-run home run in the ninth inning off new closer Addison Reed and their bullpen issues have continued in every game since the opener.
Before that final inning with Reed, the Giants got four runs with two outs in the seventh, with reliever Brad Ziegler walking in the tying run. Since that first game every Diamondback reliever has given up a run or more except J J Putz, more about him later. The bullpen has a 6.11 ERA, has allowed 19 earned runs, including 14 after the 7th inning. They have also given up 4 home runs and have allowed 16 walks. Their 28 innings of work has been taxing to say the least. If they continue at this pace they will set an all-time record for innings of work by a bullpen in MLB history.
Confidence in your bull pen is hard to measure as a statistic, but nothing is more demoralizing to a team than its bullpen blowing a lead or a save opportunity. During spring training numerous Diamondbacks players, coaches, front office personnel, writers and even fans said if this team is going to challenge for a playoff spot the bullpen cannot blow leads and saves like the 2013 bullpen did.
Will Harris, who was being counted on as the 8th inning set-up man, due to David Hernandez missing the whole season has been abysmal. He has allowed 7 earned runs and has a 15.43 ERA in 4.2 innings of work. His command has fallen off.
Now the Diamondbacks need to find an 8th inning set-up man quickly. J J Putz is the most likely candidate to work as the set-up man for closer Addison Reed. He does not have the same velocity he once had, but that doesn’t change the way he attacks hitters. And, so far, he’s really the only Diamondbacks pitcher to have had any success out of the bullpen so far. He has turned in three scoreless appearances to open the season. He is a crafty veteran who uses a mix of five pitches. He leads with four-seam and two-seam fastball that were once in the upper 90s, but have now settled in the 90–92 mph range. His main off-speed pitch is a splitter in the mid to upper 80s. He also throws a handful of cutters and sliders, primarily to right-handed hitters. He knows how to get middle-of-the-order hitters out.
The organization and coaches were concerned by what they saw from him during Spring Training. He had a 4.70 ERA with nine hits and seven walks in 7 2/3 innings and they wondered if he would be able to have success once the season began. That was the main reason Addison Reed was given the job as closer. But Putz hasn’t had much trouble so far, facing eight batters and retiring seven of them. The only base runner he allowed was an intentional walk. He is still the same crafty veteran that goes after hitters and will get ahead on the count and then hopefully with his splitter pitch, he will put them away.
For the bullpen to get out of this rut they will need to start making pitches. These bullpen guys can turn any fastball around on any hitter in baseball and they need to get a few innings of no runs and saves to get their confidence back.
However if the bullpen continues to struggle it will be a long season and my prediction could quickly be disproved…
I hope to see you at Chase Field when the Diamondbacks return home Friday April 11th for a six game homestand against the Dodgers followed by the Mets.
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