Closing Thoughts: Into the smouldering ruins of Arizona's 'pen

Andy Behrens
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Right now, the Diamondbacks' bullpen is just a collection of bad ideas (most of them not so different from the one pictured above). The best approach to Arizona relievers is avoidance. But we understand that many of you are not in a position to turn down save opportunities, no matter the source.

For that reason, we're republishing manager A.J. Hinch's recent comments on his ninth inning mess (via the Arizona Republic). This was his response when asked about pulling Chad Qualls(notes) from Sunday's game:

"It's been a rough year … [Qualls] is bearing the brunt of the struggles in the bullpen, so at some point it has to happen, where you can't leave it into fate and decide and try something different," Hinch said.

With the team heading to Boston to begin a road trip on Tuesday, Hinch said all options remain open.

"I don't want to back myself into a corner either way, but I'm certainly going to look into things," he said. "We've really only had one guy down there that's maintained some consistency [Aaron Heilman(notes)]."

[…]

Heilman has been effective as a setup man, and no one would be surprised to see him in a closer's role, as least temporarily, at some point.

So there you go. Enjoy some Heilman, speculators. He had a nice statistical run with the Mets from 2005 to 2007, but New Yorkers don't necessarily have fond memories of him ('08 was a mess).

In the closing grid below, we've already slotted Heilman at the top of the D-backs' bullpen hierarchy, because it hardly seems possible that Qualls could get another chance in a high-leverage situation. Until Hinch makes an official declaration, however, we won't know the arrangement for sure. Arizona's remaining June schedule is brutal — at BOS, at DET, NYY, at TB, at STL — so there are sure to be additional blown saves ahead.

(Full disclosure: You won't find Heilman or Qualls anywhere in my fantasy portfolio. This is not a situation that I've made an investment in, anywhere. Completely scary. Five current members of Arizona's bullpen have an ERA above 6.00. There are really no easy choices for Hinch).

Update, 2:15 pm: Every week, as soon as we post Closing Thoughts, important bullpen news breaks. The Diamondbacks completed a trade on Tuesday, sending Conor Jackson(notes) to the A's in exchange for right-handed minor league reliever Sam Demel. In 28.2 innings at Triple-A so far this season, Demel has recorded six saves and he's struck out 28 batters. His ERA is 1.26. Last season he saved 14 games across two minor league levels and posted an ERA of 2.19. He was a closer in college at TCU.

Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports that Demel is "expected to join the D-backs in Boston on Wednesday, at which time the club will make a corresponding roster move." Demel immediately becomes one of the most interesting names in the Arizona bullpen if you're speculating on future saves. The D-backs somehow managed to address a big league problem while dealing for a prospect. That's no small achievement.

Another update, 5:30 pm: Here's the news that everyone expected, via tweet from the Republic's Nick Piecoro:

A.J. Hinch says majority of save opps will go to Heilman, "but he might be needed in the 7th and 8th, too."

Elsewhere, Piecoro says that one scout he spoke with characterized Demel as "a mediocre reliever." Mediocrity is a huge step up from most of the current options, obviously.

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The Orioles have activated Alfredo Simon(notes) from the disabled list, but he's expected to make at least one appearance in a non-save situation before returning to the closer's role. David Hernandez(notes) likely gets the next save chance. Of course Baltimore currently has a 17-47 record — easily the worst in the big leagues — so the team's next save opportunity might not arrive anytime soon.

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Huston Street(notes) tossed a scoreless inning at Triple-A Colorado Springs on Monday, a positive step after a messy two-thirds on Friday (4 H, 3 ER, 1 K). The Denver Post reports the following:

Street had hoped to be activated off the disabled list [Tuesday], but he'll arrive soon enough, probably early next week.

He's expected to eventually reclaim the closer's role, but Manuel Corpas(notes) has done a brilliant job thus far. Corpas hasn't issued a walk in any of his last 15 appearances, and he's allowed just two runs since May 12. Manny isn't exactly piling up strikeouts (5.8 K/9) and he's had great luck on balls-in-play (.211 BABIP), but you have to respect the control he's demonstrated recently. Over the first month of the season, he walked nine batters in 14 appearances.

Matt Thornton(notes) hasn't made an appearance since June 8, when he allowed three hits, two walks, a homer and five earned runs to the Tigers. Overuse has been the big concern. Thornton threw 72.1 innings last season, and he's on pace for a similar total this year. He's allowed runs in his last three appearances, raising his season ERA to 3.81. Meanwhile, Bobby Jenks(notes) has converted every save chance this month.

David Aardsma(notes) is throwing as hard as ever (94.3 mph average fastball), but he's nonetheless putting up ratios that look like … well, that look just like the numbers he posted in every season prior to 2009. If you own him, you're no doubt worried. It was great to see him collect a one-out save on Sunday, but he'd allowed five earned runs over his previous two appearances and he hasn't struck out a batter since May 26. Brandon League(notes) is probably Plan B, but he's much too risky to activate for fantasy purposes in a non-closing capacity. Mark Lowe(notes) (back surgery) is likely done for the season.

Octavio Dotel(notes) is up to no good once again. He's given up runs in each of his past three appearances, collecting his first official loss of the season and his third blown save. Evan Meek(notes) has clearly out-pitched everyone in Pittsburgh's bullpen (0.74 ERA), but usage patterns suggest that Joel Hanrahan(notes) could be next in line for save opportunities. Hanrahan has a 1.14 WHIP in six June appearances, with 10 Ks and just one walk over 7.0 innings. Of course the Bucs didn't kick Dotel to the curb back in April, when he allowed an astonishing 17 runs over 23.2 innings, so they may not have even noticed his June struggles just yet.

Matt Lindstrom(notes) (back) was reportedly available on Sunday, so perhaps the Brandon Lyon(notes) threat has passed for now. Lindstrom encountered a rocky stretch in late-May and early-June, though, blowing three saves and allowing six runs over four appearances.

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