Photo by Jonathan Willey
By Greg Dillard
The past two seasons had been forgettable ones for the D-backs, with Arizona sputtering to consecutive last places finishes in 2009 and ‘10. They fell victim to high strikeout totals and a lackluster bullpen, with the postseason being a distant thought.
Things have taken a drastic change in 2011.
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.
By Greg Dillard
In 2011, the D-backs have proven time and time again that they can never be counted out in a ballgame. And as they’ve proven this season, it’s the execution of the little things that makes all the difference.
During the team’s surge to the top of the National League West, they have continually found ways to win with a new hero every single game.
In Wednesday night’s series finale against the Marlins, the D-backs pulled off another miraculous comeback to seal the 6-5 win and the series victory. It was the team’s third walk-off win of the season, and the D-backs now have a 16-3 record in their past 19 games.
“We just try to weather the storm, just stay calm about it, and don’t get too frustrated,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “When you get in games like that they can frustrate you.”
After the Marlins came back to tie the score at 5-5 in the top of the inning, it was time for the D-backs to rally once again.
Upton delivered the striking blow with a two-out, broken-bat single to left, but Willie Bloomquist and Ryan Roberts deserve a ton of credit for the way the game ended.
Bloomquist singled to start the inning. When Roberts was up with a 2-1 count and one out, Bloomquist took off running. Roberts made contact, chopping the ball to third. When third baseman Greg Dobbs fielded it and threw Roberts out, Bloomquist was able to advance to third, taking two bases on a ground out.
Upton’s hit then plated Bloomquist and sealed the walk-off win.
“We just kept battling,” Upton said. “Huddy gave up some runs early, but he kept us in it. He gave us a chance to battle back, and we just fought.”
Hernandez continues 8th inning excellence
After rallying to tie knot the score at 4-4 in the seventh, Gibson called on David Hernandez to pitch the eighth, as he has so many times this year. The right-hander did his job, and then some in his lone inning of work.
Hernandez fanned the first batter, Gaby Sanchez, to start the inning and then froze Gregg Dobbs on strike three. Mike Stanton then strode to the plate in need of just a double for the cycle. Instead, Hernandez struck out Stanton to fan the side and end the inning.
“I was feeling good,” Hernandez said. “It’s actually funny, Gibby came up to me yesterday during batting practice and was like ‘Hey we need to work on getting your pitch count down’. He told me he wanted to get down to about 15 an inning so it was 13 tonight so that’s a start.”
David Hernandez – Photography: Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
With all position players now in camp, Spring Training workouts are in full swing for the D-backs.
The third day of full squad workouts took place on Monday morning, and pitchers faced off against live hitters for the first time this spring.
While pitchers get acclimated to the game environment, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson was unsure of who will pitch in Friday’s opening game against the defending world champion San Francisco Giants.
“All the pitchers have now thrown,” Gibson said. “They’ve had their sides on and off, on and off. They all have thrown live today, see how everybody comes out of that. Want to make sure there’s no soreness in shoulders, or forearms, or elbows and stuff like that.”
Blum brings veteran presence, adds depth
One of Kevin Towers’ first moves as new General Manager of the D-backs was to sign infielder Geoff Blum.
Blum brings a strong veteran presence, and much needed experience to an Arizona roster that had a youthful look in recent years.
“I think the expectations are that you stick around long enough you garner hopefully a little more respect by the experiences you’ve been through,” Blum said. “I’ve been fortunate to be on some really good teams, really bad teams, and some interesting teams. I think coming here into this clubhouse and some of the rumors you hear about what had happened in the past. I think that’s exactly what it is, the past. We’re a whole new ball club.”
While Blum is highly regarded as a role player off the bench, he is also in the midst of a position battle at third base.
“So far so good,” Blum said. “Obviously I’m just happy to be here and have a job. To be put in a situation here in Arizona, is going to be a special thing for me. I’m just happy to be even mentioned in the competition at third base.”
Gibson said that the influx of veterans is already paying dividends.
“They’ve got great attitudes,” Gibson said. “They work hard. They go about their business. We’ve talked about Blanco; Blum is the same way, Mora, Bloomquist. They all have different aspects about them. It’s contagious. It’s what we were hoping for.”
Hernandez hopes to make impact in bullpen
David Hernandez is only a week into his D-backs career, but the right-handed hurler is excited to be a part of the new-look D-backs.
Hernandez and fellow reliever Kam Mickolio were shipped from Baltimore to Arizona in exchange for Mark Reynolds over the offseason.
Hernandez offered some insight on his longtime teammate Mickolio.
“He’s really tall,” Hernandez said. “He throws from a wide angle that I couldn’t repeat. He’s got a good repertoire. He just deserves a chance. It was really tough for him over in Baltimore, but I think he’s got a little more opportunities over here.”
Last season, Hernandez sported a 4.31 ERA in 79 1/3 innings of work. He also collected two saves with the Orioles, and will most likely serve as a late inning reliever for the D-backs.
Towers added the two pitchers in hopes that they will revitalize a bullpen that was dreadful in 2010.
“It’s definitely complimentary when he goes out of his way and he trades somebody that is proven big leaguer that hits home runs,” Hernandez said. “I’m happy to be a part of that package, and I’m happy that Kam came along with me. It’s definitely good to come in here knowing at least one person. It’s been really easy to get along with everybody in here.”
Photography: Greg Fiume/Getty Images
The D-backs’ most significant move so far this offseason was the trade that sent third Mark Reynolds to the Baltimore Orioles for a pair of right-handed pitchers.
Those pitchers — David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio — will add depth to an Arizona bullpen that is getting stronger by the day.
Hernandez is the key piece in the deal, as he experienced some real success after being moved from the rotation to the bullpen last year, which suits him in part because he is primarily a two-pitch guy (fastball/curve combo with an occasional changeup).
He made his last start of the year on May 21, and from then on was quite good. In his last 33 games, he threw 37 innings with a 3.16 ERA, with 45 strikeouts and 13 walks.
Hernandez’s opponent-hitting numbers were solid in that time, holding batters to a .236 average, .310 on-base percentage and a .371 slugging percentage. Hernandez should easily slide into the back of the bullpen for the D-backs this season, as his stuff should work in a late-inning role. He dials up his fastball in the low- to mid-90s (average fastball was 93.6 MPH in 2010).
Mickolio is a bit more of a mystery, as he has less big league experience. He’s pretty huge — 6-foot-9, 255 pounds, which I think makes him the third-tallest D-backs player ever, after Randy Johnson and Jon Rauch — and has made a handful of appearances for Baltimore over the last three years. In that time he’s posted a 4.32 ERA with 26 strikeouts and 14 walks in 25 innings.
His ERA has been high at Triple-A the last two years (5.80 in 2009 then 6.37 in 2010) although his strikeout and walk rates were essentially the same as when he was quite successful there (1.80 ERA) in 17 2008 games. He might well be an example of ERA being a poor way to judge a reliever.
Random note: Mickolio was born in Wolf Point, Mont. and went to high school in Bozeman, making him one of only three Montana natives playing in the big leagues right now (along with Taylor Tankersley, who was born in Montana but didn’t go to H.S. there, and Rob Johnson). There have only been 26 Montanans all time in the big leagues.