SCOTTSDALE – An unwritten edict of the baseball world holds for a team to be successful, the closer must earn around 40 saves for the season. It’s no secret closers assume a prominent role and represent one of the top personnel decisions.
A look at principal relievers reveals a consistency among that number. Last season, two earned 40 saves or more, and that included Emmanuel Clase of Cleveland and Kenley Jensen of Boston.
Through closer consideration, the traditional role may be changing. Here, Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo could be in the forefront. Just as Kevin Cash, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays changed the nature of starting pitching, and began to use “the opener,” Lovullo may alter how traditional closers could be used.
With closer Mark Melancon out until at least the All-Star game with a subscapularis strain of the right shoulder, Lovullo is ready to modify the existing landscape. While the traditional closer is designed to finish contests, Lovullo indicated his best pitcher could show up during any portion of the game. For those considered as the back-end of bullpen relievers, their entrance would be called in times of peril. That could be any inning including the ninth.
“I’m learning to be as opened minded as possible,” Lovullo said before Monday’s 7-3 pre-season victory over the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch. “I want to create the best opportunity for us to win games. The biggest situation may occur in the eighth, or before. So. I’m changing year-by-year on my stubbornness in using just one closer and using only one for the ninth inning. Why would you not want your best pitcher at different times during the game?”
At this point, Lovullo has a selection to interchange. For power late, he can call upon Carlos Vargas, obtained from Cleveland in the off-season, and lefty Joe Mantiply, who was the lone All-Star Arizona representative in the 2022 All-Star game. By Lovullo’s account, Vargas could be called upon to gain a critical out in any inning.
For now, Lovullo indicated he is adopting the philosophy of responding to a certain situation and utilizing whom he considers the best suited to gain important outs.
“I’m adopting that approach,” he said. “What does that mean? Right now, I’m not going to name a closer. I’ll be pretty firm on that. Someone might emerge and I may have a slam-dunk situation. I don’t know, and if that happens, that’s how my mind works. I’m open-minded about every avenue.”
Kelly to start WBC finale? … Arizona Diamondbacks’ righthander Merrill Kelly is slated to see game action in the WBC final Tuesday night against Team Japan in Miami. While Team USA manager Mark DeRosa has not named a starter 24 hours before game time, Kelly would be a likely candidate.
After right-hander Adam Wainwright was declared the number one in Team USA’s rotation, he was followed in game two by Nick Martinez of San Diego. According to sources, Martinez was told he would be bypassed for the final game, and simply packed his bags and left the team. That leaves Kelly as the likely one to take the ball from De Rosa.
“In my discussion with (Kelly) leading up the WBC, I explained to him he is ready for this opportunity,” Lovullo said. “He wants the ball in the biggest situation. It would be a great opportunity for him to let the world see he’s a pretty darn good pitcher. I know he’s up the challenge and we are proud of him no matter what happens.”
Down to Jamision, Nelson? … prior to Monday’s game, the Diamondbacks optioned Tommy Henry to AAA Reno.
In camp, Henry was considered one of the leading candidates for the fifth slot in the starting rotation. In spring games, the left-hander from the University of Michigan was 1-1 and had a 5.51 ERA. In five games and four starts, Henry allowed 14 hits, 11 runs, nine walks and three home runs.
Earlier in the week, the Diamondbacks send down righty Brandon Pfaadt, also considered a candidate for the last spot in the rotation. Now, righties Ryne Nelson and Drey Jamison may have the inside track for that last rotation spot.
“It’s never easy to send out quality players,” Lovullo said. “We have some really good arms and there are very tough decisions. We explained to Tommy that one day we’ll have different conversations.”
Henry was sent down to work on location of his secondary pitches and fastball command, Lovullo pointed out. At some point, the manager assured, Henry could find his way back to the majors during the season.
“(Henry) has some work to do,” Lovullo added. “He’s close. We want him to command the baseball and command his secondary pitches. He was sent down to work on specific things and begin the journey to get back here as soon as possible.”
Carroll $igns … Though this was reported in recent days, the perspective is worth noting.
In a bold departure from past behavior, Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen took, for him and the Arizona organization, a quantum leap. Not completely cascading into the free-agent financial hysteria, Hazen did make a sizable commitment to the future. That move, alone, may signal a change in behavior and commitment.
In signing outfielder Corbin Carroll to an eight-year, $111 million contract on March 11, Hazen executed his second high-profile signing. The Carroll signing is a considerable leap forward from a 5-year, $85 million deal Hazen signed with left-hander Madison Bumgarner.
“Since we drafted him, Corbin has been a model for every Arizona Diamondback player,” said Hazen after the signing. “It was a combination of rocketing through the minor league system and getting up the major league level. We fell he will make an impact for years to come.”
The implication here is to open the club’s checkbook and recognize the harsh existence of attempting to be competitive in highly charged economic environment.
Next – on Tuesday, the Diamondbacks take on the Los Angeles of Angels at Salt River. Right-hander Zack Davies, (0-1, 13.50 in spring games) gets the start. Then, an off-day and the schedule resumes Thursday with a home game at Salt River against the Dodgers.