Diamondbacks need success from Boxberger as playoff push heats up

Sep 7, 2018, 6:44 PM | Updated: 10:54 pm

Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Brad Boxberger (31) pitches against the Texas Rangers during th...

Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Brad Boxberger (31) pitches against the Texas Rangers during the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

(AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

PHOENIX — After relinquishing the National League West lead for the first time since early August last weekend, the Diamondbacks are hoping their recently faltering bullpen, which is responsible for three of their past four losses, can turn things around the rest of the season.

One of the keys cogs in the bullpen is closer, and first-year Diamondbacks player, Brad Boxberger.

The seven-year veteran is in the closer role for only the second full season of his career. After stints with the San Diego Padres and the Tampa Bay Rays to start his career, Boxberger finds himself on a team competing for a pennant in September for the first time.

“I’d say it’s definitely more exciting,” said Boxberger comparing this season to past ones. “Instead of just checking off days to when you go home, you’re checking off days till hopefully making a playoff push and get to play those extra games. So, definitely (it’s) the most exciting September I’ve ever had.”

Despite Boxberger’s lack of experience in high-pressure fall baseball, fellow reliever Brad Ziegler believes not much will change for him.

“He’s pitched in close games his whole career. That’s part of being a closer. You come in with basically every pitch mattering and he’s done that his whole career,” Ziegler said.

“Just because we’re in a pennant race doesn’t change the fact that he has to go out and execute this next pitch and get this next guy out, ‘cause it’s all the same just the crowd cheers a little louder.”

Right-hand reliever Jake Diekman also believes Boxberger has the makeup to succeed down the stretch.

“He’s pretty calm, cool and collective on the mound. He doesn’t show much emotion. His heart beats probably like 50 (beats per minute).”

Boxberger has had his mental makeup put to the test all season long as he’s pitched in close games time and time again.

He ranks second in average leverage index this season amongst relievers, according to Baseball-Reference. The average leverage index reflects how much variation there is to the win probability, or outcome of the game, based on the pitcher’s performance. It essentially means Boxberger has pitched under more intense or high-pressure circumstances than all but one reliever in the league.

But, the pressure is not something he has necessarily noticed.

“I’d say in comparison to 2015 when I was a closer in Tampa, I’d say it’s probably close to that. I mean the last two years I’ve been in and out of different roles so it’s kind of a little bit different. You know it’s the nature of being the closer, every game is going to be pretty close.”

Despite the confident outlook, Boxberger and the rest of the bullpen has struggled of late.

In his last two outings, Boxberger has taken a loss, including a rough outing Thursday night against the Braves. He retired the first two batters in the top of the 10th before losing command and eventually being pulled from the game with the bases loaded.

Boxberger has an ERA of 5.93 since the start of August, but he’s not the only member of the bullpen to be struggling.

Archie Bradley, the current set-up man for the Diamondbacks, has blown three saves in the past eight games. He has a total of six blown saves this season.

The bullpen issues have played a major role in the team’s current slump, having lost nine of their last 13 games. A streak that has moved the Diamondbacks from a game up to two-and-a-half back in the NL West.

With the fourth-toughest remaining schedule in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus, the bullpen will look to improve for the Diamondbacks to make a playoff push.

Ten of the team’s last 22 games come against either the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Colorado Rockies, who both are ahead of the Diamondbacks in the NL West standings.

The tough schedule also provides the Diamondbacks a great opportunity to pick up lost ground in the division.

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