As the season progresses, the plan may not always be in place. Then again, there is little deviation from the way manager Chip Hale drew the original blueprint in spring training.
When the Diamondbacks signed veteran reliever Tyler Clippard to a free agent contract on Feb. 8, the back end of the bullpen became solidified. Previously, Brad Ziegler was named closer, and Daniel Hudson, coming off of two Tommy John surgeries and turned in a quality 2015 season, was designated as the set-up reliever.
The trio then played right into Hale’s criteria of a worthy bullpen. All three came to the table with qualifying major league experience, and the value of each was set.
Now and three weeks into the season, the trio of Clippard-Hudson-Ziegler have paid dividends. Coming into Monday’s game with the St. Louis Cardinals in Chase Field, the three have a combined 1.27 ERA, and Hudson and Ziegler each is below one run per nine innings.
The condition set forth from Hale established Clippard as the seventh inning pitcher, Hudson for the eighth and Ziegler for the ninth. Of the Diamondbacks first 10 victories, Ziegler has four saves and Clippard one. That accounts for half of the wins, and if the Diamondbacks are to be competitive in the National League West Division, pitchers should account for 45 to 50 saves. Considering a team plays 162 games, half would be 81, and far above that platform.
The situation for Hudson is different. As a starter on the Diamondbacks’ 2011 NL West Division winner, the right-hander went 16-12, and a 3.49 ERA in 33 starts. Since his two Tommy John surgeries, Hudson’s role as a starter was replace to that of a short-term reliever. The transformation has worked well, and Hudson led the Diamondbacks in holds with 14 a year ago.
“This is a new role for me,” Hudson said. “I watched other relievers, how they prepared and did their job. I try and talk to as many as I can. I’m figuring out my routine, and how best to prepare.”
The results have been gratifying. Hudson’s fast ball is now clocked constantly in the mid-90s range and occasionally reaches 97 and 98 miles per hour. Fully recovered from the medical procedures, Hudson showed durability last season with 64 appearances and importance with a 3.86 ERA.
Ziegler’s value continues to be his ability to keep the ball down, and have hitters roll into double plays. Coming into Monday’s game, the native of Pratt, Kan. saved 32 straight games over two seasons, and that’s an Arizona franchise record.
“All three give us great flexibility,” Hale said. “When we signed Clippard, that was the plan. We knew Clippard could be used in a set-up situation or as a closer, and all three have pitched well.”
While the back end of the bullpen appears in place, it’s middle relievers, these days, which draw Hale’s concern. With two extra-inning games within a span six days and the normal wear on his staff, the aim, going forward, is try and keep as many fresh arms as possible. The issue with this is options players have or do not have.
As much as Hale would like to have an unlimited revolving door between AAA Reno, AA Mobile and Chase Field, standards in place prevent unlimited shuttling between teams. For that reason, the Diamondbacks made roster moves prior to Monday’s game with the Cardinals.
Here, the club optioned right-handers Tyler Wagner and Evan Marshall to Reno and recalled left-hander Keith Hessler from Mobile. In a move made just before the game, the Diamondbacks recalled Dominic Leone from Reno. Hessler and Leone were expected to be ready for Monday’s game with the Cardinals.
“When we sent Wagner and Marshall down, we told them it was not because of what they did, or their numbers,” Hale said. “It’s because we need fresh arms, and they understand that. If you’re a championship team, you’ll use 50, 60 guys and every player in important.”
At the same time, the Diamondbacks want Wagner to start, and his chances of starting at the major league level right now are zero. At the minor league level, Hale wants pitchers like Zack Godley, Braden Shipley, Archie Bradley, and Wagner, as he explained, “to pitch their way up here, and push starters here for a spot.”
ALL-STAR BALLOTING HAS STARTED
This week, balloting for the All-Star game began. Scheduled for Petco Park in San Diego on July 12, the game will be the 87th in this series. The National League leads, 43-41 with two ties.
The annual Futures Games, featuring rising stars divided among Team USA and Team World, is slated for Petco Park on Sunday July 10. As well, the home run derby will be conducting on Monday July 11 at Petco.
Because there are no paper ballots in ball parks and retail outlets of Major League Baseball corporate partners, fans can only vote on-line as well as with mobile devices. Fans from around the word can cast ballots for starters a total of 35 times, including a minimum of five valid ballots in any 24-year period. With fan voting now in its 15th year, more than 600 million votes have been cast. To vote, fans are directed to go to mlb.com.