One of the story lines this Spring was how Diamondbacks Manager Torey Lovullo was going to utilize the back-end of the bullpen. The team traded for Brad Boxberger and signed Yoshihisa Hirano out of Japan to help out that area, but the team did not name a closer to start Spring. With the Dbacks leading 7-0 thanks to a 4th inning explosion and a vintage Greinke level outing (6 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 4 K, 75 P), that allowed for Lovullo to at least experiment with the order of the back-end of the bullpen in a game situation.
The first pitcher to enter the game was Archie Bradley in the 7th. If anything, having Bradley be the first man up between him, Boxberger, and Hirano might be the best strategy for the bullpen because it allows for Lovullo to use Bradley in the middle innings if needed. If a starter labors through a start and needs to be pulled in the 6th, the team didn’t have a player who could be relied upon to finish the inning. This year, Bradley can be that guy while also doing his typical 7th inning work after that. The only risk to that is if the team needs to put out fires after the 7th inning (i.e. Boxberger or Hirano having a bad day), although the team has a multitude of LHPs in T.J. McFarland, Andrew Chafin, and Jorge De La Rosa for the Left-on-Left match-up.
Boxberger came into the game in the 8th and Hirano finished the game in the 9th. Both pitchers are 1-inning-only relievers with Boxberger’s injury history and Hirano’s age. Boxberger and Hirano have the stuff to negate the platoon advantage from LHH with Boxberger using his 4-seamer at the top of the zone, which plays faster than the radar gun readings, and Hirano using the 4-seamer to set up the devastating fork ball. Hirano’s forkball really falls off the table and fades away from a LHH. The Diamondbacks will still mix in the left-handed relievers in certain situations, but the way the bullpen is constructed they can pick their match-ups in the 6th and 7th innings.
Whether or not the order will end up being Bradley-Boxberger-Hirano is still left for Lovullo to decide, but after seeing him utilize all three relievers in a single game, this is an educated guess. It makes the most sense in terms of maximizing the utility of the back-end of the bullpen even though it puts a pitcher who hasn’t thrown a single MLB regular season pitch yet in one of the key bullpen spots. It’s definitely a valid concern, although I’d say every MLB closer today was unproven in that role at some point in their careers. I’d much rather have Lovullo be able to be more flexible with his bullpen usage than install Bradley as the closer just to manage to the save stat, which is one of the most overrated stats in the game along with batting average. It will be interesting to see if Lovullo does indeed stick with this order with his bullpen and how effective it will be once the games start counting on Thursday.