One of the things which will be sorted out over the next four weeks are the roles to be played by the Diamondbacks relief corps - and, hopefully, those roles won't be the "comic relief" ones played in 2010. Well, I'm sure opposing fans found them highly amusing - personally, I'd rather sit through an Adam Sandler/Robin Williams marathon. This year, I'm looking for something more like The Expendables, with a host of hard-nosed mofos coming out of the bullpen to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And if they're all out of bubblegum, that's entirely fine by me.
I was going to do whole thing, comparing each member of the 'pen to a cast member of The Expendables, but it just never gelled. I don't think we have a Jason Statham or a Dolph Lundgren rattling around down there. Though J.J. Putz does have something of a Mickey Rourke about him, a grizzled veteran who has been through adversity and come out the other side. Though I don't recall Rourke having a fondness for delivering shaving-cream pies to the faces of his co-actors. Yeah, this is one of those ideas which, in the cold light of day, will be quietly consigned to the SnakePit garbage-can.
Putz, however, has been notable by his absence from games this season, and is not scheduled to appear in one until next week. He's in camp, throwing bullpen sessions, and there's no apparent health issues: Putz just doesn't need that much work to get ready, telling Nick Piecoro that he needs only eight or nine innings to be ready. Kirk Gibson doesn't mind: "He knows what he has to do, he's throwing the ball great, he's lights-out. He's going to do bullpens and he likes to do a lot of long toss. He wants to build his arm strength. Different people like to do it different ways."
No such ease for those hoping to precede Putz in the seventh and eighth innings. So far, the most impressive veru early performances appear to have come from David Hernandez, who has pitched three innings, with a single and a walk the only things between him and perfection. He has been looking to add a change-up to his repertoire, to go with his fastball and slider. "Right now, I feel like I have a grip that’s going to be comfortable to throw and have confidence in... It’s going to be a key pitch if I can get that pitch over during the season." Actually, if his third pitch blossoms, turn him back into a starter, which he was in 27 of his first 28 major-league games, up until last May.
Maybe we can just abandon the concept of a relief corps, and go with a 12-man rotation instead? For the quest of Aaron Heilman to become a starter has started off very impressively, with just one hit and no walks allowed in five innings of work, including three perfect innings yesterday against the Mariners. And the hit was subsequently erased on a double-play, so Aaron has faced the minimum 15 to date. Yeah, I know - beating up on the Mariners offense is like defeating your kid sister at arm wrestling, but if Heilman keeps up this level of performance, it's going to be hard to argue against him getting a rotation spot in April. Here's what he told Jack Magruder:
I still think of myself as a starter. I still feel like I have the stuff to do, am physically able to do it and can handle the workload. It's been a while, but things feel good. Sometimes how you would like to be used doesn't always fit in to the needs of the team. You keep working on the things that you want to do and where you want to get to. At the end on the day, you go out there and compete. That's what it's all about and that's why we're all here... By no means is it going to be easy, but I feel like I have just as good of a shot as the next guy. That's all I've ever wanted, to have a legitimate shot, and see if I can go out and win a job
Things haven't gone so smoothly for Juan Gutierrez, whose two appearances to date have resulted in three hits, two walks and four earned runs. A small plus is, he hasn't allowed any homers, which were the bane of his existence in the first half of last year. An article at the start of spring credited the improvement shown later in the year to a move to the third-base side of the rubber, suggested by former pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. Whether that will carry forward to this season, remains to be seen - however, at this point, he seems to have fallen behind Hernandez as our eighth-inning guy.
At the back end of the bullpen, rumblings that we may be unhappy with the southpaw options available. Nick reports "Folks with other clubs are saying the Diamondbacks are looking around for some left-handed relief help, though its unclear whether this is to add to the 'pen, or replace one of the current candidates. Joe Paterson, our Rule 5 pick, had a solid frame against the Mariners yesterday, giving him two scoreless innings, with a walk and two K's. Mike Hampton has been a bit up and down: while also putting up two zeroes, and fanning three, he has allowed three hits, two walks and hit a batter. Jordan Norberto has walked three in his two innings - so business as usual there.
Piecoro also mentions the club may be looking to trade Carlos Rosa [Tony Abreu is mentioned as available too], saying "You can understand both why scouts would like him – and why the Diamondbacks would be willing to move him. He was throwing 93-94 mph yesterday and is often up to 95-96 mph. But his slider is notoriously inconsistent – nasty one day, flat the next." I think 33 walks in 60 innings, between the major- and minor-league levels last year, are likely a significant factor in his availability. Still, easy come, easy go: to get Rosa, we traded a shortstop (Rey Navarro), who had a .599 OPS at the High-A level last year. If we get better than that, we're ahead on the deal.