Specialization is commonplace in Major League Baseball these days, no more so than in a team’s bullpen.
There’s the left-handed specialist, the long man, the setup man and the closer.
And then there’s Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Josh Collmenter.
In a season that has seen the D-backs lead the league in games played in 12 or more innings (10) and extra-inning wins (13), the 27-year-old has specialized in an “all of the above” capacity.
Collmenter, who won 10 games as a rookie starter back in 2011, has provided Arizona with a rare combination of relief and flexibility in 2013, to the point he’s pitched in every imaginable setting, from the 2nd through 16th innings.
“It’s one of those things having a starting background, I can throw multiple innings,” Collmenter told Arizona Sports 620’s Doug & Wolf Tuesday. “And the way this season has gone with as many extra-inning games as we’ve played, once we’ve used a couple guys in the bullpen it seems they turn it over to me.”
What began as somewhat of anomaly — Collmenter won his first four decisions in extra-inning games — has become anything but as the season’s progressed.
When Kirk Gibson has needed outs in a late-game situation or wanted to give other relievers some much-needed rest, it’s been Collmenter who gets the call.
“The other day in that marathon game in Pittsburgh, I came into the game with two outs [in the 11th inning],” said Collmenter, who is 4-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 2013. “Gibby gave me the ball and said, ‘We have two outs and nobody on. This is your kind of game, so here we go.’ It’s starting to become not so much a joke anymore but a given I guess.”
His effectiveness as the pressure mounts is no laughing matter, nor is the reason behind it: his unconventional delivery.
“There’s a lot of deception to what I have going on [with the over-the-top motion], especially if they’ve seen three or four pitchers who have already thrown ‘normal,'” said Collmenter. “One of the big things about pitching in extra innings, especially on the road, is that there are guys trying to win the game hero-style and go out with a walk-off home run.
“You can really use that to your advantage, because it seems like the solid at-bats where you’re trying to get on base or trying to hit the ball up the middle goes out the window.”
Credit overanxious batters or unorthodox mechanics for his success, point is Collmenter has excelled in his undefined role — one that 123 games in, he’s also started to appreciate.
“I’ve grown to like it a lot, mainly because I see the value you of it,” said Collmenter. “I was in the bullpen when I first got called up but not long enough to realize how vital that role is over the course of a season.
“In a season like we’ve had this year with playing 17 or 18 extra-inning games now, times where the starter might get hit with a comebacker or a variety of other things, for me to be able to go out there and save the bullpen by throwing throw three, four, five innings at a time isn’t just a mop-up guy. That’s not the role. It’s very valuable.”
Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Cincinnati Reds, Collmenter leads all National League relievers in innings pitched (71.1) — 5.2 innings more than the next closest pitcher.