PHOENIX – Perhaps the biggest surprise during the first month of the baseball season is production from the Arizona Diamondbacks’ starting rotation. Yet, a bigger surprise is how the bullpen has kept pace and remains equally resourceful.
Coming into the current homestand, Arizona starters were 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in their previous six games. Add a brilliant effort from Merrill Kelly to open the current homestand Friday night and the Diamondbacks starters are among the league elite. With a combined ERA among starters of 2.54, the Diamondbacks are second lowest in the majors. Only Los Angeles Dodgers’ starters (1.90) have a lower ERA in the National League.
All Kelly did was pitched 8.2 innings, allowed seven hits, one run, and gained a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies before 18,551 Friday night at Chase Field.
Yet, the complementing story lies in the bullpen. Clearly maligned a year ago, general manager Mike Hazen went out and acquired two veterans Ian Kennedy as the set-up reliever and Mark Melancon as the reliever closer. With his fifth save of the season Friday, Melancon lowered his ERA to 1.08 while Kennedy is 2-0 with three saves and an ERA of 1.13 in his last eight games.
Yet, the work of middle relievers, along with their versatility to be called upon from the 5th inning to conclusion, has made the starters that much more effective. One reliever who has clearly stepped forward is Joe Mantiply, a 6-4 lefty with impressive credentials.
Rising from the ashes of an 0-3, 3.40 ERA season a year ago, Mantiply has come to exemplify the reliability which characterizes the work of the bullpen here in the opening weeks. In his first 12 appearances of the season, the native of Dry Fork, Va. sits with an 0.87 ERA and allowed just nine hits in 10.1 innings of work.
“I’m just really trying to pound the zone,” Mantiply said before Friday’s homestand opener against Colorado. “Just want to get ahead of guys and stay on them when I’m ahead. There have been some hard hits balls, but guys have been making plays behind me. I try to get the hitters put the ball in play and then everything works out in your favor.”
As Melancon is the designated closer, manager Torey Lovullo will not deviate. Mantiply, going forward, will continue to find himself in challenging positions.
Overt the recent week, Melancon went down with a COVID diagnosis and returned to save Friday’s game against the Rockies. In his absence, Mantiply picked up two saves and solidified his versatile position. Going forward, Lovullo can make the call in any critical siltation to use Mantiply involving a desired match-up from the sixth inning forward.
“I’ve put (Mantiply) into any situation at any time and he’s always come through,” Lovullo said. “He’s grown over the past year and one-half. He hasn’t let us down and we want that to continue. He’s pitching on edge and he’s going out there and in a very focused way and making every pitch he possibly can. And, he’s getting big outs.”
Mantiply’s value transcends his ability to get a particular batter out. He provides Lovullo with a reliever which gives value throughout the game.
“He is a luxury for me,” the manager added. “I’ve had him in a game as a closer (in the recent series in Miami) and the next day, I had him in the game in the fifth inning. It doesn’t matter. He’s very versatile and he’s very equipped to get outs at any time against the toughest lefties and righties.”
As Lovullo pointed out as the current homestand opened, Melancon is the present closer of choice, as Mantiply said, “I just try and be ready whenever my name is called, go out and get the job done.”
Elsewhere … with a double in the second inning Friday night, Ketel Marte set a career-best of at least one extra-base hit in six consecutive games. His previous best was five from June 1-5, 2018. … the series continues with two more with the Rockies and then three each with the Marlins and Cubs to complete the current home stand