Photo by Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
When J.J. Putz went down with an elbow injury earlier this season, the D-backs’ bullpen was suddenly without its reliable closer. Before the injury, Putz locked down 21 saves with a 3.12 ERA in 34 appearances.
Someone was immediately needed to fill the role of closer, and David Hernandez has done just that. In his first season with the D-backs, Hernandez has been nearly unhittable in the late innings. He previously served primarily as the eighth inning setup man ahead of Putz.
Hernandez then assumed the ninth inning duties when Putz went down. He’s been instrumental to the D-backs’ recent success by notching five saves in five chances. The right-hander now has seven saves on the season.
Since making the transition, Hernandez works to keep it uncomplicated when he toes the rubber in the ninth.
“It’s the preparation,” Hernandez said. “The last three outs of the game are the toughest. For me, I just try and keep it simple and just throw strikes, especially when they’re down to the final three outs. They’re going to come out swinging, so it makes it a little easier on me.”
During the offseason, the D-backs addressed their bullpen needs by shipping former infielder Mark Reynolds to Baltimore in exchange for Hernandez and Triple-A reliever Kam Mickolio. Since arriving in the desert, Hernandez has been instrumental to the team’s early season success.
Prior to closing, he posted a 3.50 ERA in 38 games. In May, Hernandez made 12 appearances and yielded just two earned runs. He did more of the same in June, when he had eight-consecutive scoreless outings. Opponents hit just .083 against him during that time.
Now as the D-backs’ closer, Hernandez employs the same approach as he did in his eighth-inning role.
“You’ve still got to pitch to your strengths whether you’re coming in the eighth or ninth inning,” Hernandez said. “So far things have been able to work out. I’ve been able to work out of a couple jams. I’m just trying to stay consistent.”
He’s been consistent and then some for the D-backs up to this point. A 1.69 ERA and .105 opponent batting average are exactly what the bullpen needed.
With Putz working to get healthy, Hernandez’s tenure as the ninth-inning guy may not last much longer. Although he’s embraced the closer’s role, he’ll pitch wherever he’s needed down the road.
“I like closing, but either one … it doesn’t matter,” Hernandez said. “I think anybody would love closing. For right now, it could be today is the last day. It could be next week, who knows. I’ll take it for what it is and just help win games.”