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GM Hazen still confident in D-backs bullpen: ‘Talent remains the same’

Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Jeff Mathis, left, congratulates relief pitcher Yoshihisa Hirano after he retired Colorado Rockies' Charlie Blackmon for the final out in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Denver. Arizona won 6-3. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen believes his team’s bullpen will rediscover what made it one of MLB’s more imposing sets of arms for most of the season.

For Arizona’s sake, it needs to happen soon.

The D-backs enter Wednesday with a 2.5-game deficit to make up in the division and 4.0-game deficit in the NL Wild Card standings. They find themselves in the precarious position with three blown saves in the last 12 days.

Archie Bradley took two of those blown saves against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sept. 1 and 2. Brad Boxberger accounted for one Sunday against the Atlanta Braves but also was tagged with losses after allowing runs on Sept. 6 against Atlanta and Sept. 2 against the Dodgers.

They aren’t the only ones who have struggled.

“I think we’re searching a little bit. I think given the recent performance, the games that we’ve lost in the manner that we’ve lost them, I think become very difficult for a bullpen as a whole,” Hazen told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “I think we’re going to — I think if we’re going to get where we need to be, we’re going to have to learn from this and use it. I think we still have, the way you look at the bullpen, I think there’s still plenty of talent. The talent remains the same. The talent’s going to be the same.

“Executing in the moment left us there for a little bit. It has been a strength the whole season.”

Since the All-Star break, Arizona’s bullpen has produced a 4.87 ERA, good for sixth-worst in the majors. It’s gotten worse in the last 14 days with a 6.64 ERA for the team’s relievers.

Small sample size or not, it’s been a problem. And it’s confounding considering the D-backs had the third-best bullpen ERA of 2.85 in the first half of the season.

Manager Torey Lovullo has attempted to stop the bleeding. Even before reliever Matt Andriese allowed seven earned runs in 1.1 innings on Monday in a 13-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies, Lovullo said he was ditching the traditional closing role that Boxberger held down to this point. He said the team would focus on individual matchups.

On Tuesday night, the honor of closing went to Yoshihisa Hirano, who in a 6-3 Arizona win over Colorado earned the save with two strikeouts in a clean ninth inning.

“When you have a team that is leading the league in runs, and I think we were probably built more that way last year, you know, you end up covering a lot of mistakes,” Hazen said. “On the flip side, when you’re built a little bit more on pitching and defense, yes, every run, every mistake, every great play, they are magnified. Some of the things the last couple of weeks haven’t necessarily gone in our favor. When it’s a one-run game and a two-run game and you end up giving up a home run — you don’t make the play that you’ve typically made all season.

“I still believe, again, if the preparation is there, and the talent’s still there, that’s going to flow back in the other direction,” the GM added. “We need to start doing that too. It’s not bad luck. We need to go out there and execute better.”

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