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More questions than answers for Diamondbacks in spring training, Part 2

Yesterday, we looked at the position player side. Today, let's look at the questions concerning the pitching staff - including a couple which have arisen since our players first reported to Salt River Fields last month.

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Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Reed vs. Putz

At least we did know about this one coming in. When there's a battle for a closer's spot in spring training, it's hard to gauge, because "save situations" are handed out almost at random in the pre-season. Pitchers are largely pre-determined, with a reliever coming in to the game in inning X, regardless of the score or situation. That's why, right now, Josh Collmenter leads the Diamondbacks in saves and save opportunities, having gone 3-for-3. The other saves belong to Jake Barrett, Evan Marshall, Marcos Mateo and Joe Paterson. Neither Addison Reed nor J.J. Putz have had one yet. So, we have to look at other stats to see if we can get any hints

Reed: 7 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 8 K, 1.43 ERA
Putz: 5.2 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 4 ER. 0 HR, 5 BB, 4 K, 6.35 ERA

Reed has certainly had far better results, but perhaps more concerning is the decrease in velocity for Putz, "scouts reporting his fastball has gone from the 86-88 mph range early in camp to 88-90 mph more recently." That's bad, because when he was pulled from the closer's job in July last season, Kirk Gibson said, "There's not a lot coming out of his arm right now. His velocity is way down." That was on the heels of an outing where his average fastball velocity was 91.3 mph, so the high eighties would seem more problematic. However, I note Putz's velocity was sharply lower after his second DL stint last year, for a dislocated finger.

Kirk Gibson seemed unbothered: "The thing about J.J. is, he's pitched a lot games, he's been through a lot of spring trainings, he's saved a lot of games, and I think that when the season starts it'll be a whole different game for him. He's one of those guys." Putz has also been working on mechanics with pitching coach Mike Harkey, and Gibson thinks part of the poor results are because JJ hasn't been able to locate his four-seamer down in the zone. Reed, meanwhile, has looked impressive. According to Nick Piecoro, Reed "was the odds-on favorite to begin with," and has "done nothing this spring to indicate he can't do the job well once again."

Conclusion. Ken Rosenthal recently suggested Putz is "more likely" to be traded than one of our shortstops, and there's something to be said for this - it'd unclog the bullpen a bit, allowing us to keep both Joe Thatcher and Oliver Perez. Putz also has seniority and tenure, plus keeping Reed back would reduce the young pitcher's cost in arbitration. I suspect the job is still JJ's to lose, and if there's a save opportunity on Opening Day in Sydney, it'll go to him. However, I can't say I'm happy about it. Any stumbles in the early going, and a quick hook is probably in the works.

Bronson's balky back

This would be one of those questions where, a month ago. we did not expect to need an answer. We'd just signed Bronson Arroyo, and were looking forward to the all but guaranteed 200 innings he'd pitch for us. "Not quite so fast," said the baseball gods, Bronson being yanked out just before his scheduled second spring start, on March 4. Since then, it has been a bit of a medical roller-coaster, according to the health bulletins.He'll miss 5-7 days! No, wait: make that 7-10 days! He had an epidural and is feeling much better! Hang on: it's been slow! He may not be ready! But we're trending in the right direction!

The latest word is fairly encouraging, Gibson telling KTAR: "He's much better today. He's going to throw again today and hopefully throw a bullpen session Sunday, and if he's better, three days later we might get him in a simulation game. With our fifth starter scheduled to take the mound three weeks today, on Friday April 4th, that would give him two starts on normal rest beyond the simulated game - and only one against major-league opposition. And this is assuming there are no further setbacks. Will that be enough for Arroyo to be fully ready? I think it's probably wise to have a Plan B. Actually, we have Plan B and a Plan D: Archie Bradley and Randall Delgado.

Before yesterday, Bradley had certainly posted the better spring numbers, but after the third start for each man, the gap has narrowed considerably.
Bradley: 8.1 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 HR, 6 BB, 10 K, 4.32 ERA
: 11.1 IP. 14 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 HR, 1 BB, 7 K, 5.56 ERA
I think this is one of those cases where spring stats actually provide a fairly accurate reflection of true talent. Oh, look at that: Bradley is striking out people, but having problems with his control, while Delgado is being troubled by the long-ball. This is my unsurprised face. Conclusion. Since we're likely talking a fairly short-term assignment, I think it will be Delgado if needed.

The bullpen crunch

Just when we thought it was all figured out, with Delgado moving in to the relief department, and Will Harris being left without a seat, the Diamondbacks sign Oliver Perez to a two-year deal, giving them a second left-hander in the 'pen. Or maybe someone to replace Joe Thatcher. Or possibly both, with the final decision not being have to be made until after the return from Australia, as we may well have an expanded bullpen for the trip, due to the slots not needed for starting pitchers. As noted above, perhaps a trade - of Putz or Thatcher - will happen. Otherwise, as soon as Arroyo makes his first start, we're looking at someone being bumped.

The assumption is Thatcher has the hot-seat, having struggled after his arrival from San Diego. But is that necessarily so? If the team didn't like the southpaw, they could easily have non-tendered him, and signed Perez earlier this winter. Instead, Thatcher got a one-year, $2.38 million contract, though we can release him for about $580K. Putz and Reed clearly aren't going anywhere, and neither is Perez. Delgado is out of minor-league options. David Hernandez and Josh Collmenter have now combined for one run allowed in 16.2 spring innings, and both appear to have their roles locked down. If anyone is struggling, it's Brad Ziegler, who has had a really awful spring:
Ziegler: 5.1 IP, 9 H, 8 R, 8 ER, 0 HR, 4 BB, 1 K, 13.50 ERA

Conclusion. Something has to give, unless we're thinking off going with an eight-man bullpen in the regular season? That would give us a short bench, but as we discussed yesterday, outside of Eric Chavez, Cliff Pennington, Henry Blanco and whatever fourth outfielder we opt for until Cody Ross is ready e.g. Tony Campana, there isn't an obvious good fit for the 25th spot among our position players. So, while unconventional, it might work. Otherwise, I suspect there will be a trade, although almost certainly it won't be until after the Australia games.