One of the significant changes in baseball, over the past few decades, is the disappearance of the complete game. At one time, a starter could expect to complete a vast majority of starts and several led their leagues in consecutive years.
With recent disappearance of the complete game, an emphasis evolved on the importance of the back-end of the bullpen. The days are over when the Phillies’ Robin Roberts led the National League in complete games for five years in a row, and his lowest total was 22 complete games in 1956. Left-hander Warren Spahn of the Braves topped the National League in complete games in 1951, and in consecutive years from 1957 through 1963. The last pitcher to complete 20 or more games in one season was the Dodgers’ Fernando Valeuzuela (20) in 1986.
By compassion, the last National League pitcher to lead the league with double-digit compete games was Randy Johnson with the Diamondbacks in 1999 (12). James Shields, when pitching for the Rays, was the last American League pitcher with double-digit complete games when he turned in 11 in 2011. Last season, the Diamondbacks received only one complete game, and that was from Josh Collmenter April 17 at San Francisco.
All of which clearly addresses the value of the back-end of the bullpen. With opening day a week from Monday, the Diamondbacks appear to set with Tyler Clippard likely the seventh inning reliever, Daniel Hudson as the set-up reliever, and Brad Ziegler as the closer.
A starter can expect to throw from 95 to 110 pitcher per start, and if they average 18 pitches per inning, each could expect to last into the seventh inning. In some innings, it’s not uncommon for a starter to throw 20 to 25 pitches. In the game played today, managers are not hesitant to pull starters well before reaching the critical eighth and ninth innings.
Then, there’s the nature of relievers. Teams which compete for divisional titles usually have their closer record from 42 to 48 save in a given season. That would require Ziegler, whom manager Chip Hale identified as the Arizona closer, to reach close to that number.
Given the physical demands, Ziegler, at 36-years-old, could be challenged to keep up this bruising schedule. Still, he emerged last season as a reliable closer, and that was after his status rose as one the top set-up relievers in the game. In 2016, Ziegler, who finished last season with 28 consecutive saves to close the season, is expected to carry the principal role as closer.
While Ziegler will open the season as the fireman in the bullpen, the roles of Clippard and Hudson are defined. At least early in the season, Hale wants to stay away from running any reliever out for two, three, four days in a row. Overall, he indicated before Saturday’s game with the Brewers at Maryvale, the bullpen is ready to go.
“Everyone is on time and throwing well,” Hale said. “I think Clippard and Hudson want to be know what innings they will pitch, and that will come.”
With four runs in the bottom of the ninth against Arizona relievers Sam LeCure and Wesley Wright, the Milwaukee Brewers tied the Diamondbacks, 7-7. By mutual agreement, the game ended after nine innings. The crowd at Maryvale Baseball Park was 8,213, the largest home crowd for the Brewers this spring.
Diamondbacks’ starter Patrick Corbin turned in another strong effort. Corbin pitched into the seventh, and his pitch count reached 85. Afterward, Corbin said he felt good and satisfied that, for the first time in nearly three years, he hit over 80 pitches. Against the Brewers Saturday, Corbin went 6.1 innings, allowed six hits, surrendered three runs, all earned, walked none and struck out seven hitters. For his five starts this spring, Corbin is 2-0, and a 1.71 ERA.
“I’m continuing to build my pitch count,” Corbin said afterward. “I wanted to work around hitters and go inside and out. I thought I accomplished that moving toward my first start of the season. Next time, I’d like to go six innings.”
That would be his final spring start before facing the Rockies on April 6 in Chase Field. Corbin is slated to start the third game of the season.
The Diamondbacks staked Corbin to a 5-1 lead early. Powered by home runs from Paul Goldschmidt and Brandon Drury, the four-run lead was created by the fifth inning. Drury, batting .389 after Saturday’s game, went 4-for-4 with a double, his fourth home run of the spring and scored three runs. Peter O’Brien added his fifth homer of the spring with none on in the ninth.
STARTING THE SEASON ON DL?
With a lingering sore right elbow, centerfielder A. J. Pollock continues to be a question mark for opening day. When the Diamondbacks commence their championship season a week from Monday night in Chase Field against Colorado, Pollock may be on the disabled list.
That was a possible scenario pointed out by Diamondbacks’ manager Chip Hale before Saturday’s game with the Brewers. Pollock continues to play in minor league games for the principal reason of protection from the DL.
If Pollock is placed on the DL, this can be retroactive to his last Cactus League game. Pollock last appeared in a Cactus League contest March 8 against San Diego. Should he appear in any one of the Diamondbacks’ remaining eight pre-season games, then the club could place him on the DL retroactive to that game. For now, Pollock is being held out of Cactus League contests until the Diamondbacks make a reasonable judgment on his health and readiness for the championship season.
On Sunday, the Diamondbacks spilt their squad. Half stays at Salt River, and takes on the Rockies. Manager Chip Hale remains with the squad at home, and Rubby De La Rosa will be his starter. The Rox will start righty Christian Bergman.
The other half, with Phil Nevin directing the club as manager, travels to Surprise and faces the Texas Rangers. Right-hander Yoan Lopez gets the start for Arizona, and the Rangers will go with right-hander Colby Lewis.