DENVER, CO - APRIL 14: Starting pitcher Josh Collmenter #55 of the Arizona Diamondbacks works the second inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on April 14, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Josh Collmenter started the season in the Diamondbacks rotation, following a strong performance in 2011 which saw him win ten games with a 3.38 ERA. He looked set to be a solid member of the team as they sought to repeat at NL West Champions. However, his April was horrid: he failed to win any of his four starts, which isn't surprising, considering he had an ERA of 9.82, allowing 20 runs in 18.1 innings. Collmenter was consigned to the bullpen, and we wondered if this was Barry Enright redux - a pitcher who fooled major-league hitters for a while, but who was finally figured out, and was never the same thereafter.
But then something weird happened.
There had always been speculation that Collmenter was a better bet out of the bullpen, based on his limited pitch repertoire - he throws a fastball or change-up 94% of the time, with only a handful of curveballs per outing. The theory was that this, combined with his funky, straight over the top delivery, was sufficient to fool batters once, but on subsequent trips through the order, the more often they saw Collmenter, the easier they'd find it to hit him. The first month of the season suggested proponents of that plan might have been on to something.
Certainly, the move to the 'pen paid immediate dividends in terms of performance, Collmenter adapting to his role as long reliever very well. His first four outings covered ten innings, but resulted in only one run. Opponents got only eight hits, but the key appeared to be Collmenter going back to throwing strikes, with a K:BB ratio of 8:1. That was a great improvement over the 16:5 ratio posted over his starts. Further decent outings (and a spot start) got his season ERA down to 4.80 by the end of June - but in 22.2 bullpen innings, Collmenter had allowed only three runs, for a relief ERA of 1.19.
But it wasn't perhaps the change in role, so much as Collmenter correcting his mechanics. Josh eventually figured that he was no longer coming directly over the top, with the tomahawk action which had brought him success previously. Going back to that brought more or less instant relief: "Everything feels normal and natural and I don't have to do anything out of the ordinary to get the ball to do what I want it to," Collmenter said. It wasn't quite that easy, the pitcher telling the Republic "It just gets frustrating because then you start trying to do more and more. The more you try to do stuff with your mechanics or force things to happen then usually the less it happens."
So, when the calendar turned to July, and Daniel Hudson went under the knife, the team opted to move Collmenter back into the rotation. It was decision perhaps informed by the fact that his first start would be against the Brewers, a team he had owned three times last year, allowing one run over 21 innings. The Diamondbacks lost that game, but it wasn't Josh's fault, as he held Milwaukee to three hits and one score in six frames. He was briefly bumped from the rotation on the return of Joe Saunders, but when Trevor Bauer was returned to the minors, Collmenter got the call again.
All three July starts since his escape from the bullpen have been quality ones, with a 2.50 ERA and 15:3 K:BB ratio, and it appears that Collmenter has locked in his rotation spot for the rest of the season. If the team are to make any kind of push in the second half, he'll be an important component of it.