After Hernandez's crumbling in the 8th inning by walking two and giving up a home run to Brandon Belt, I too had that "Oh no, not again" sensation. Memories of the 2010 bullpen were clearly at the forefront of my mind. It's hard to let go of the awful images where leads would be given up like outs on the basepads by Parra.
What I have to keep reminding myself of though, is that these are the same guys from 2011... not 2010. Names like Quals, Gutierrez, Rosales, and Valdez are all gone. No, this is the bullpen of 23 wins and 14 losses. JJ Putz with an ERA of 2.17 and 45 saves with only 4 blown. David Hernandez with an ERA of 3.38, 34 holds/saves and 3 blown in 2011.
This very same bullpen we're all worried about was the poster-child for turn around's and would have earned a most improved bullpen if there was such an award.
But here's the thing. 16 straight days with no days off for the bullpen is much more taxing than I think we're all realizing. Have you ever tried throwing a ball as hard and fast as you can 20-30 times a night, every night for 2 weeks? I bet your arm would be a little dead too. JJ's velocity is showing it.
In the final game against the Rockies when JJ "had his stuff working", his fastball was in the 94-95 MPH range. That made his splitfinger much more devastating and he didn't have to rely on location as much. When he gave up the 2 run home run to Pablo Sandoval, he was only throwing it around 90-91. It's much easier to sit on a splitfinger when you can still turn on a fastball late.
There's more good hope too.
The team is sitting on a 15-13 record after facing the toughest schedule in all of baseball. They're only 2 back in the division. What's even more remarkable is that they're doing it with a patchwork of guys who weren't supposed to be the producers. For the first month of the season we've had Hill, Kubel, Bloomquist, Eaton, Hudson, and Gregorious all sitting on the bench with an injury at some point. Add those guys back into a lineup with Parra, Pollock, Ross, Goldschmidt, and Chavez then you've got a good shot at being tops in the division.
I haven't even mentioned yet two guys that WILL get hot as the season gets going. Montero and Prado. Does anyone doubt their bats will be warming up soon enough? Montero is hitting screamers to outfielders. He's not poping up like Chris Young did during his struggles. No, he's hitting line drives right to someone. This can only go on so long before they start finding gaps and turning into doubles. I think Prado is still trying to get used to the pitching in the NL West which is very good compared to the rest of the league.
The NL West features 4 teams in the top 10 of the NL for ERA. All 5 are in the top 15. The ERA average for all of the teams the D-Backs have faced is 3.81.
Cardinals - 3.14
Brewers - 4.26
Pirates - 3.87
Dodgers - 3.96
Yankees - 4.00
Rockies - 3.72
Giants - 3.71
You could understand why a player might be struggling a little bit against pitching like that, let alone a whole team. Instead they're only 2 back.
June should be a the bust out month for the Diamondbacks. Everyone should be healthy and they get Hudson back in the rotation. As long as the Diamondbacks can stay this close to the top of the division through May, we could be looking at another surprise team like in 2011. My hope is certainly not lost. There is still 5/6ths of the year to go. We're a long way from the home stretch.