More pitching trouble in 9th as Diamondbacks fall to Rockies

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The pitch, a fastball up and away, was right about where Diamondbacks reliever Ian Kennedy had wanted it. The Colorado Rockies’ Ryan McMahon hit it anyway, driving it out to left-center field for the go-ahead home run in the ninth inning.

On their second day with reshuffled bullpen roles, the Diamondbacks ran into more turbulence in the late innings on Saturday, falling to the Rockies, 3-2, at Chase Field.

A day earlier, manager Torey Lovullo said he was transitioning to a closer-by-committee approach in the ninth inning, a move that came after veteran Mark Melancon suffered his 10th loss of the season — a franchise record for a reliever — earlier in the week.

Kennedy closed the door with no issues on Friday night, retiring the side in order to preserve a 6-5 win. He had no such luck on Saturday. Ahead in the count, 1-2, on McMahon, he tried to climb the ladder with a fastball, but McMahon caught up with it, giving the Rockies their first lead of the night.

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“You get clipped every once in a while,” Lovullo said. “That happens in this game.”

For Diamondbacks relievers — particularly in the late innings — it has been happening more than they would like. Melancon has had something of a strange year. He has converted 14 of 17 save opportunities, posting a 3.45 ERA in those games. In non-save chances, his ERA balloons to 5.57. His struggles have been even more evident in extra innings: Opponents are hitting .375 off him in the 10th inning and later.

He acknowledges a key reason for that — he has struggled to record strikeouts, putting him at a disadvantage in extras with a runner on second base to start the inning — and he said he does not have an issue with Lovullo’s decision to remove him from the role.

“I still think closing is where I have the most value,” Melancon said, “but right now I totally understand Torey and I agree with him. We need a different look right now and that’s fine.”

Melancon said that in recent days the organization has presented him with additional analytical data that he is hoping to apply to his outings. He said the changes are mostly related to pitch usage — that is, when and where to throw particular pitches.

Pitching coach Brent Strom made the argument that Melancon’s season hasn’t been as bad as it might appear, saying the perceived struggles are more a product of the high-profile nature of the closer’s role.

“When you give up two runs in the fifth inning, let’s say, people don’t really eyeball it too well,” Strom said. “But when you give up the run in the ninth, it stands out. That’s the price you pay for being a closer.”

He said some of the advanced data he has seen suggests that this is the second-best season Melancon has had in the past six years. He said the numbers he is referring to consider things such as quality of contact allowed, spin rate and pitch movement.

“It’s not like his velocity has dropped,” Strom said. “It’s not like his cutter has lost its cut. It’s not like his curveball has lost its spin. It’s just the nature of the position he’s in right now. Every little thing seems to go against him and goes against us.”

By removing Melancon from the closer’s role, it frees up Lovullo to find more advantageous matchups for him — and to try to keep him out of extra-inning games when his lack of swing-and-miss stuff is even more glaring.

Lovullo said he likes the idea of flexibility in the late innings, but he also noted that in the past he has always liked to “build the game backward” from the ninth inning — and that he wouldn’t be opposed to someone claiming the closer’s job.

“It’s going to be a very fluid situation,” Lovullo said. “We’re going to have the right guy at the right time in the right matchups step up and get those outs. I’m not concerned about it because I like the experience and the ability to collect outs with some back-end guys with the right mentality. But if somebody emerges, sure, I’ll hand it to them.”

Kennedy could still be the one to emerge. Counting the home run on Saturday, he has allowed just five earned runs in his past 20 appearances dating to late May.

Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or nick.piecoro@arizonarepublic.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: More pitching trouble in 9th as Diamondbacks fall to Rockies