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Josh Collmenter heading back to the rotation?

In last night's game, Josh Collmenter tied a team record with a four-inning save. It seems he is being groomed for a return to the rotation - but who will he replace, and how will Josh do, going back to his original role as a starter?

Thearon W. Henderson
Whose spot does he take?

We may know more about that later today, following Randall Delgado's second start of the season, in the rubber match against the Giants. The first did not go as the Diamondbacks would have wanted, Delgado lasting only four innings and being charged with six runs on ten hits and two walks. However, Delgado's BABIP for the season is .500, and it also has to be said, Coors Field is probably about the worst park in the majors, particularly for someone like him, who has a sharp fly-ball tendency. A night game at AT&T Park should be more conducive to a good outing - though he might want to ask Tim Lincecum about that.

As has been well documented, Delgado doesn't have any options, so would not be able to be assigned directly to Reno. If there was to be a change, it would seem the most likely route would be a straight swap of roles for Delgado and Collmenter, with Delgado going to the bullpen as long-relief and mop-up guy. That will address the problem noted by Kevin Towers the other day, that Collmenter is working low-leverage situations. "He's a very valuable resource and we're in a situation right now where the times he does get into ballgames are meaningless innings, and he's one of our better pitchers."

If Delgado does pitch well enough to retain his spot, the focus may shift to Trevor Cahill, who is 0-3 in three starts, with a 7.90 ERA. He just doesn't seem able to locate his pitches consistently, and that shows in a K:BB ratio of 9:8 in 13.2 innings. Another poor outing for him, and it could be time for a move there too: I suspect it's less likely he would move to the bullpen, considering his sole relief outing since 2008 was an emergency one in the 18-inning marathon against the Phillies last year. More likely seems what we saw earlier that season: a DL stint, and a rehab assignment to work out his issues. That was effective then, Cahill posting a 2.70 ERA in nine starts after returning.

Recovering in Reno

That might seem a bad idea initially: the Aces' ballpark is not far off Coors in terms of altitude, and its reputation hardly seems to make it where you'd want to send a struggling pitcher to regain confidence. However, that may be much less of a problem now. There has been a humidor in action there, and it does seem to have had a very significant effect in dampening the park factor. While obviously, there are some different players, and we're still very early in the season, the Aces' overall OPS has dropped from .770 last season to .701 this, and their team ERA has plummeted from 5.51 to 2.86, the best in the Pacific Coast League.

Collmenter as a starter

At first glance, Josh has performed much better out of the bullpen, with a career ERA of 2.49 there, compared to 4.03 as a starter. However, the numbers warrant more analysis. Over his first 13 starts in the 2011 season, his ERA was a more than respectable 3.00, but from then through his return to a relief role at the end of the following April (15 games) it increased to 5.58. But after rediscovering himself there, he made seven spot starts over the rest of the 2012 campaign, and performed very credibly again, with a 2.84 ERA. He hasn't started for the D-backs since the tail end of 2012.

One thing that stands out from his 2011 numbers, is how batters handled him much better the second time they saw his funky, over the top delivery. First time facing Collmenter, hitters managed only a .453 OPS, but the second and third times, this inflated to .807 and .804 respectively. However, there's some data, albeit in a lighter sample size than I'd like, to suggest he may have corrected this. Since the start of 2013, the second and third time seeing Collmenter, batters have hit only .200, going 13-for-65, with an overall OPS lower than on the first occasion. If he's to return to being a starter, how he fares on these repeat viewings will play a large part in determining his success.

Perhaps surprisingly, Collmenter seems less enthusiastic about the possibility than you'd expect. "A couple of years ago I probably would have been more ecstatic, but I've grown to like the bullpen, just the variety of roles you get used in. It's definitely closer to an equal in terms of the likability of each role. But if that's where the team wants me, that's absolutely where I'll be." It seems after last night's outing, he should be ready. "That's kind of the nice thing about how my arm works; it doesn't take too long to get there. So maybe one three-inning outing, I'm sure I could go five, no problem."

Of course, this is the man who threw 78 pitches over five innings in the Opening Series last year - after throwing 1.2 innings the previous day. If he does make it into the rotation, anything less than a complete game will be a disappointment. :)