D-backs’ Torey Lovullo: Bullpen roles will largely be defined by pitchers’ performance

Apr 4, 2017, 3:23 PM | Updated: Apr 6, 2017, 11:32 am
Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Fernando Rodney is one of the few known commodities in the team...
Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Fernando Rodney is one of the few known commodities in the team's bullpen. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
LISTEN: Torey Lovullo, D-backs' Manager

For a team that lost 93 games in 2016, the Arizona Diamondbacks didn’t make as many roster changes as one might think.

The newly-constructed decision-making team of general manager Mike Hazen did overhaul one area of the Arizona roster — the bullpen.

The D-backs opened their 2017 campaign with seven relief pitchers, five of whom — Archie Bradley, Jorge De La Rosa, J.J. Hoover, Fernando Rodney and Tom Wilhelmsen — are newcomers to the position or team.

With so many new pieces, finding defined roles for relief pitchers is an ongoing process in its early stages for new manager Torey Lovullo.

“I haven’t really established a role for anyone, with the exception of Fernando Rodney — he’s our closer and he deserves to be our closer,” Lovullo told Burns and Gambo Tuesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

Rodney, 41, was signed in the offseason in an attempt to shore up a closer role held by Brad Ziegler and others last season. In his Arizona debut, Rodney was touched up for two hits and a run in the ninth inning, but got the win as the D-backs rallied for a 6-5 walk-off win over the Giants in the season opener Sunday.

“I know he had a little bit of a hiccup in the ninth inning where he allowed a run, but think about what he did with the bases loaded and one out with Buster Posey coming up,” Lovullo said. “He got him to pop up, and that was a crucial moment. In back of him was Brandon Crawford and he got him to chop a ball at home plate.”

OK, so that leaves six other relief pitchers without a defined role at this point. Lovullo knows it’s important for those players to know what’s expected of them within the bullpen. A lot of it will be determined by their performance on the mound.

“I think what we’re going to do is a little bit of the matchup game and put these guys in the best situation to be successful,” Lovullo said. “If we have a left-right-left situation, we’re obviously going to lean towards a lefty, but we want to make sure these guys are in the right situation and comfortable with their roles. They know that they’re going to be in the back end of this game as opposed to the front end of the game, and right now, Archie Bradley is going to be our ‘length’ because he’s stretched out, so he’s going to be the guy who’s first out if something happens.”

If you consider emergency length guy as a bullpen role, that’s two marked off the list. Lovullo knows it benefits himself and the bullpen to have roles defined as quickly as possible, but he’ll be patient in the process, too.

“It’s not one game that I’m going to pull the rug out from under these guys and say ‘look, you’re at the end of the line,'” he said. “I’m not going to run away from these guys. I’m going to give them the opportunity. I want them to go out there again and get those big outs.

“They’re going to define their roles by how they’re performing and I want to give them a little bit of time. I don’t think one game is a fair assessment. I can’t say exactly how long that time is because we’re evaluating stuff — we’re evaluating comfort, we’re evaluating mound presence — we’re doing that on a daily basis.”

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