Yesterday started with the news that last year’s closer - until he lost the job - Mark Melancon, will probably not be part of the Opening Day roster, due to a problem with his shoulder Steve Gilbert reported yesterday, “The extent of the injury is unclear, per GM Mike Hazen, but he appears likely to miss the start of the season.” Melancon had not pitched this week, and his spring numbers had been far from impressive. Over three Cactus League outings, covering 2.2 innings, Melancon had allowed ten hits and a walk, leading to five earned runs. His velocity was down too: how much the now-declared should issue was a factor in all this, remains to be seen.
Worse was to follow in last night’s pointless, rained-out contest at Salt River Fields, where Corbin Martin had to leave the game, in obvious pain, with what was also a shoulder ailment. In contrast to Melancon, Martin had been having an impressive spring as he adapted to his new bullpen role. Over his five spring appearances, covering 5.2 innings, he had struck out nine batters, while walking two, and allowing six hits and two earned runs. Again in contrast to Melancon, Martin had been showing increased velocity - not unexpectedly in a relief role. But if last night was anything to go by, it could be a while before he takes the mound again. We should know more in the next couple of days.
Both men were almost locks to be part of the Opening Day bullpen for the D-backs, so their absence leaves a pair of gaps to be filled. With an eight-man bullpen likely, there are five spots which appear very likely spoken for. Those belong to Andrew Chafin, Scott McGough, Joe Mantiply, Kevin Ginkel and, at a fractionally lower level of confidence, Miguel Castro (though having thrown four innings of one-hit ball in spring, with a K:BB of 5:0, he has certainly done nothing wrong). Kyle Nelson is probably next on the grid: while his spring figures have been merely okay - eight hits, two walks, five strikeouts and four ER in 5.2 innings - last year’s strong bullpen work likely carries more weight.
That leaves the two spots, previously assigned to Melancon and Martin, to be addressed. It feels like the latter was slated towards a long-relief role, so that position might go to someone who can offer multiple innings. The obvious candidate would be whoever doesn’t get the fifth starter’s job. But I think the team is better served by having them start in Reno, as Arizona will need depth in the rotation - and if history is any guide, that will be needed sooner, rather than later. The problem is, the only “reliever” save Martin seeing even one inning per game in Cactus League play is Tyler Gilbert, and he has been smacked around badly, allowing 15 hits and 10 ER over 5.1 innings, with just one strikeout.
Contenders for the Melancon spot are easier to identify, and will likely be drawn from the pool of hard-throwers Mike Hazen worked to add to over the winter. Luis Frias has struck out eight over five innings of one-run ball, but Jeurys Familia would seem perhaps to be the most likely candidate. After a rough 2022, the spring signs for Familia have been promising, with one run allowed on two hits over 4.2 innings. He has struck out four and, so far, not walked any batters. I also want to mention Mitchell Stumpo, who has perhaps been out of sight, since he has been pitching for Italy in the WBC. But he has struck out five batters in his three innings there, allowing two hits and a walk, and just an unearned run.
It feels like the team has options, especially in terms of replacing Melancon. There’s certainly no need for him to rush back. Indeed, I think many fans would be happier if he took the entire season off to recuperate, just to be on the safe side. But based on 2022 performance, it doesn’t feel like that will damage the team too badly. The loss of Martin, just as he seemed to be coming back to what we expected from him, is more disappointing, and the team will need to find a long relief arm. To get an idea of who they’re considering, we will probably have to see who is getting more than three outs over the remaining two weeks of preseason games.