Diamondbacks’ bullpen making a case to be seen as the best in baseball
Jun 14, 2018, 4:47 PM | Updated: 4:52 pm
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
PHOENIX — During the middle innings of a 13-8 Arizona Diamondbacks win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, relief pitcher Archie Bradley playfully flicked sunflower seeds at teammate Andrew Chafin out in the left field bullpen.
That laid-back attitude and camaraderie belies the all-business, locked-in approach manager Torey Lovullo’s group of relievers has leaned on this season to become one of the best relief units in baseball. Through games played on June 13, Arizona’s bullpen sports an MLB-best 2.50 ERA.
“We want that, you know. We want to be the best ‘pen in the league,” Bradley said. “Whether it’s the back-end guy or a guy like T.J. McFarland picking up the starter who has a short outing or gets hurt and can’t continue. We take pride in what our bullpen does.”
Bradley leads the Diamondbacks in appearances (33) and holds (17). He has a 2.23 ERA and a stellar 0.96 WHIP.
McFarland, meanwhile, has been a workhorse for Arizona by eating innings out of the bullpen. He’s appeared in 23 games (10 fewer than Bradley), but he’s pitched 42 2/3 innings compared to Bradley’s 32 1/3.
“Along with us being able to do our jobs, Torey does a really good job with managing the bullpen and never really allowing us to go too many consecutive days in a row,” McFarland said. “We have a lot of guys who can do different roles. The versatility down there is pretty impressive.”
A key piece to the puzzle this season has been the addition of 34-year-old MLB rookie Yoshihisa Hirano from Japan.
“I’m pleasantly surprised at the start that he got off to,” Lovullo said. “I feel like there would be a little bit of learning curve with a new ball, a different sized ball, different mound, different construction of the mound, but he plowed right through that.”
Despite having to overcome numerous tangible differences in the game coming over to MLB from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, Hirano boasts a miniscule 1.55 ERA in 29 innings pitched. He’s also stranded all 11 of the runners he’s inherited this season, according to Fox Sports.
“It’s been a collective work from everybody,” Hirano said through interpreter Kelvin Kondo. He added that watching other guys have success out of the bullpen provides added motivation to be a part of that success, as relayed by Kondo.
With so many different pitchers in Arizona’s bullpen keeping runs off the board, it makes sense to view them as one collective entity.
“I mean, I think the biggest thing is we’re going out and doing our job,” Chafin said. “Everybody’s just going out and making quality pitches and going after hitters.”
Although the Diamondbacks bullpen is tops in the league in ERA and ranks No. 4 in batting average against (.215), it isn’t striking out nearly as many hitters relative to the rest of the league. In fact, Arizona’s bullpen ranks No. 28 in the majors with 198 strikeouts. For reference, the New York Yankees’ relievers top the league with 298 Ks.
“We’re not striking guys out … but we’re also not walking guys,” Hirano said through Kondo.
Arizona’s bullpen has surrendered 75 walks thus far this season. Only four teams in the majors have put fewer hitters on via base on balls.
The relief pitchers have had success by pitching to contact this season because they can rely on a stout defense behind them.
“It just makes us pitch with more confidence knowing that we can allow the ball to be in play,” McFarland said.
Bradley also deflected praise to the team’s scouting and to the guys behind the dish.
“Our catchers do an unbelievable job of putting us in (good) positions,” he said. “We want to do our part, the catchers are doing theirs, and then combined we just, we want to win.”
McFarland said that regardless of who’s out on the mound, this group feels “it’s an extension of ourselves.”
Closer Brad Boxberger, who’s converted 14 out of 16 save opportunities so far this season, echoed that sentiment.
“Everyone’s just rooting for each other,” he said. “We feed off of each other.”