COMMENTARY | The Arizona Diamondbacks had a lot of question marks during a recent 10-game road trip, wherein they went 3-7. It was unclear what was worse: the offense, the starting pitching, the bullpen, or the other National League West teams.
But as the old saying goes, there's no place like home.
Since returning to Chase Field, the D-Backs are suddenly getting into the swing of things. The offense hasn't looked this good in months, and the starting pitching has gone deep into games, including three straight solid outings from the trio of lefties, Tyler Skaggs, Wade Miley and Patrick Corbin. Their combined 24 innings, 11 hits, and two earned runs helped the D-Backs bust out the broomsticks and sweep the Colorado Rockies.
But the bullpen, especially the closer situation, remains a big issue for the Snakes. Here are just a few options:
J.J. Putz/Heath Bell
The D-Backs could stick with their current guys, J.J. Putz or Heath Bell, but D-Backs faithful would probably not be thrilled about the idea.
Since coming off the disabled list with an elbow injury, Putz has thrown 2.2 innings, giving up an earned run, inheriting a run, and blowing a save in a 13-inning loss against the New York Mets on July 1. The big fella just hasn't looked like the anchor everyone expected.
Heath Bell has hardly been a worthy replacement. He may have saved five of six games in June, but he ended the month with a 6.30 ERA, giving up a home run in five consecutive games at one point. Not what you want from a guy in late- and close-game situations.
Some have wondered about putting Brad Ziegler in the closer spot. He gave up just one earned run in 13 innings in June, finishing with a 2-0 record and 0.69 ERA. He even earned his first save of the year in a 15-inning marathon on July 4 against the Mets.
But Ziegler is needed more out of the bullpen than in just save situations. He's already thrown 40.1 innings this year, second most in the D-Backs' bullpen behind long-reliever Josh Collmenter. Again, he's too valuable to pitch in only save situations.
Buzz abounds of a potential trade between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Milwaukee Brewers. The deal would likely include starting pitcher Yovanni Gallardo and one of the Brewers' three closers, John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez or Jim Henderson.
A name floating around for the D-Backs to trade is up-and-comer Tyler Skaggs. If the D-Backs are seriously considering trading one of the top pitching prospects in Major League Baseball, then they better pass on Axford, who had one solid season as a closer three years ago, and Henderson, who has blown over half his save opportunities in his two-year career. To give up Skaggs, the D-Backs would have to go after "K-Rod," who is tied for 23rd on the all-time saves list.
Soria is an interesting option for the D-Backs to pursue. The two-time All-Star closer signed with the Texas Rangers while recovering from an elbow injury that sidelined him for nearly two years. The 29-year-old right-hander recently returned and threw a scoreless inning in relief on Sunday (July 7), and catcher A.J. Pierzynski said Soria "looked like he hadn't missed a day."
The Texas Rangers already have a solid bullpen, which holds a 3.28 ERA -- fifth-best in the American League. They also already have Joe Nathan, who is closing games like it's 2004. The Rangers may use Soria to entice teams as the trade deadline approaches, and if they do, the D-Backs ought to at least show interest.
Brian "Fear the Beard" Wilson is another name to consider. The former San Francisco Giant, like Soria, has been recovering from an elbow injury and may be the shot in the arm the D-Backs need from their closer. He is a big risk, big reward kind of guy, as he hasn't thrown a pitch in over a year and a half.
But with the way the D-Backs have been closing games -- or not closing games -- could they go wrong with any of these options?
Justin Bray, who studies sports history at the University of Utah, has followed the Arizona Diamondbacks since Andy Benes' first pitch at the BOB in 1998. He was an original member of the Andy Fox Fan Club and even risked his life for a Dan Plesac autograph.
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