A manager calling to the bullpen to summon his closer is a common baseball event that’s been glorified by Hollywood forever.
Here’s the way it’s supposed to go:
The good guys are up one run, bases loaded, two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The skipper goes out to the mound to pull the veteran starter, who’s just got nothing left in the tank despite his pleas to “finish what he started.” The skipper stands strong and takes the ball, motioning to the bullpen to bring in the closer.
The closer is 6-foot-5, has a chiseled jaw and muscles in places where most people don’t have places. He’s got some trademark facial hair pattern and an intimidating nickname like “The Duke” or “Wild Thing.”
The crowd goes nuts as his entrance song blares over the public address system — usually something like “Hell’s Bells” by AC/DC or “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. The closer then proceeds to strike out the opposing team’s best hitter on three pitches — all fastballs, increasing in velocity on each pitch until they reach triple digits on the radar gun. The good guys win, and the closer is the hero.
That’s the way it’s supposed to happen. But that isn’t a reality for most teams in Major League Baseball, least of all the Arizona Diamondbacks, who remain in first place in the National League West despite a mind-boggling total of 19 blown saves in the first 93 games of the season.
To remain in first place, something’s got to change. And to manager Kirk Gibson’s credit, something did change Thursday night. Instead of going with past closers J.J. Putz (5-of-10 on save opportunities) or Heath Bell (two consecutive blown saves), Gibson went with submarining right-hander Brad Ziegler.
Ziegler hardly fits the above description of a closer. He’s tall, but skinny. He looks more like Mike White, the actor who played Ned Schnebly in “School of Rock”, than he does a major league closer. He may have never hit 90 mph on the gun, let alone 100 and he’s more likely to induce a ground out than a strikeout.
The Diamondbacks need somebody who can get people out in the ninth inning, not somebody who throws hard. Brad Ziegler gets hitters out. Opposing hitters are batting just .213 against him this season and reaching base at a .281 clip.
The Diamondbacks need somebody who keeps the ball in the ballpark. Bell, Putz and David Hernandez have combined to serve up 19 home runs this season. Ziegler has surrendered 12 — in his entire six-year career!
I’m not saying that Brad Ziegler should be the permanent closer for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s proved to be too valuable in other roles for that to be the case. But until either Putz, Bell or Hernandez start proving they can retire opposing hitters, or even better, general manager Kevin Towers goes out and acquires a reliable ninth-inning option, Ziegler should be the guy.