It seems Mike Hazen is a firm believer in the volatility of bullpen arms, as he continue to gather up relief pitchers with major-league experience, who will go under the ‘scope this spring training. Two more thirty-somethings joined camp on the day it started, in the form of Brian Matusz and Kevin Jepsen.
Matusz (below) went to high school here in Phoenix, at St. Mary’s before being drafted by the Orioles with the fourth overall pick in 2008. He debuted for them the following season, and was a starter until the middle of the 2012 season, when he transitioned to the bullpen. He has mostly been a reliever since, but his most recent major-league action last year came in a spot-start for the Chicago Cubs at the trade deadline. It didn’t go too well, allowing six earned runs in three innings against the Mariners. He had previously appeared seven times out of the Orioles bullpen, but had an ERA of 12.00 there. However, he had a 2.94 ERA in 49 innings for Baltimore in 2015, so we’re hoping for a bounceback season from Matusz, who turned 30 on Saturday.
Jepsen’s pro career goes all the way back to 2002, when he was picked in the second round by the Angels, out of high school. He reached the majors in 2008, and is a pure reliever, with 448 appearances and a career 3.92 ERA. Like Matusz he had a rough 2016, Jepsen’s ERA between Minnesota and Tampa Bay an ugly 5.98 over 49.2 innings of work, struggling in the closer’s role for the Twins. But also like Jepsen, he was much better the previous year (2.33 ERA, again with the Twins and Rays), and Arizona appears to be counting on a return to that previous form. He does seem to be losing some oomph off his fastball, which averaged 93.6 mph in 2016 - the fourth year in a row its velocity has dropped, from 96.6 mph in 2012.
A pair of very low-risk signings here for the D-backs: if the men are able to return to the form they showed in 2015, they would represent excellent relief investments. But that’s certainly far from guaranteed, and from an outsider’s perspective, the situation in the Arizona bullpen has grown increasingly more muddied, rather than clear, as winter has progressed. Right now, we know - well, presume - that Fernando Rodney is going to be the closer. But just about every other spot thereafter is uncertain, on the day that pitchers and catchers report to Salt River Fields. Given the limited work for relievers in spring, I suspect a lot of closely observed backfield sessions will be in order.