In mid-June, things weren’t going well for Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Heath Bell.
In five straight appearances, Bell gave up a home run to an opposing hitter — not a good streak for a starting pitcher, let alone a reliever.
Partly because of Bell’s struggles, manager Kirk Gibson shuffled his bullpen, using the veteran in more of a setup role while side-armer Brad Ziegler took over as the team’s closer.
The shuffle has worked out pretty well.
Bell pitched a scoreless eighth inning in Tuesday’s 6-1 win over the Tampa Bay Rays. That may not seem like much, but it’s part of a current streak of 11 straight scoreless appearances.
The team showed patience with Bell, and that patience is paying off now.
“I don’t think myself or Gibby or (pitching coach Charles Nagy) gave up on Heath, even during his tough times,” general manager Kevin Towers told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 620 Wednesday morning. “One thing we loved about Heath is he wanted the ball. A lot of guys would want to go hide.
“I’m sure he heard the boo birds there at home when he blew some of those saves, but that’s what I like about Heath — he doesn’t shy away from pressure.”
Since the home run binge against Bell, the 35-year-old has allowed just two earned runs in 17 innings of work while striking out 20 and walking just one batter. His ERA during that stretch is 1.06, and opponents are batting a scant .177 against him.
The key, according to Towers, has been Bell’s rediscovery of his curveball.
“We all knew that if he got to the point where he could start throwing that breaking ball for a strike, it would make the fastball that much better,” he said. “I think that’s where we’re at right now — he’s got his confidence back.
“We needed to probably get him out of the role we had him in, you know, closing. But giving up on him completely? No way. He’ll take the ball each and every night. He can throw three or four games in a row and it’s hard to find guys like that, that have his type of stuff. I’m happy for Heath.”