Diamondbacks closing in on closer decision
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Torey Lovullo hasn’t named his closer yet. But he’s nearing a decision.
A day after announcing that Zack Greinke would be Arizona’s starter on Opening Day, the Diamondbacks’ manager said he wants to have the ninth inning spoken for in the very near future as well.
“I’d like to probably make a decision here in the next several days,” Lovullo acknowledged before Wednesday’s game against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch. “But I want to give it the right amount of time and get enough information from, in this case, Archie [Bradley], who’s been down for a little while. I know that he’s throwing today, and I’m anxious to see how he looks.”
As it turns out, Bradley looked better than he has all spring. He retired each of the five batters he faced, getting Matt Skole to pop out, Brandon Guyer to line out and Preston Tucker to ground out in the fifth, before inducing a ground out from Danny Mendick and a fly out from Adam Engel in the sixth.
“You know, this is the first time where I know for a fact that I’m just going to strictly be a reliever,” Bradley pointed out. “And so this is the first time I’ve only had these one inning stints. I mean, I got some multiple today which is nice. I really needed that. But it’s kind of been a transition in terms of getting ready only as a reliever this year.”
It’s a three-man race between Bradley, Greg Holland and Yoshihisa Hirano for ninth-inning duties. And Lovullo likes his options.
“We’re getting really good reports on everybody on those back fields,” Lovullo pointed out. “And not just because of the results, but because of the stuff. And we’re evaluating the stuff, as we always do.”
A year ago at this time, many people just assumed Bradley would be the guy. He was coming off an outstanding 2017 campaign and certainly seemed to have the mental makeup of a closer. But the D-backs turned to Brad Boxberger instead, after acquiring him in the offseason. And for the most part, the decision paid off. Boxberger was effective while piling up 32 saves, before trailing off in the second half of the season.
To be fair, though, most Arizona players trailed off in the second half of last season. Bradley included. He put up a 6.58 ERA after the All-Star break, to Boxberger’s 7.00.
Hirano really didn’t falter at all, though. And he’s the wild card here. He finished last year with a 2.44 ERA in 75 appearances and, while he doesn’t have the 189 Major League saves that Holland has on his resume, he did compile 156 saves during his time with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan.
He’s been steady this spring too, albeit in a very small sample size. In three Cactus League appearances, Hirano hasn’t surrendered a single hit. Meanwhile, Bradley and Holland were both sporting ERAs over 10.00 entering the game against Chicago. Bradley dropped his down to 6.23 with his performance Wednesday.
Again, though, numbers in spring training don’t mean much. And pitching stats tend to carry even less weight than hitting. It’s more a matter of who has their best stuff ready to go for the start of the regular season. And that’s only a week away now. Regardless of who begins the year as the closer against the Dodgers next week, all three will play key late-inning roles for the Diamondbacks in 2019.
“We’ll get a closer who’s going to be the last man standing out there, and then mix and match based on matchups, information that I’m getting and who’s available,” Lovullo explained. “That’s how we’ve done it in the past and it seems to have worked. We like our bullpen pieces. We like all three of the guys that are competing for the spot, and there are additional guys that get big outs as well. I know it would be nice to have traditional seven-eight-nine guys, but I’ll match up the best way I can to get the best results.”