If only for one night, side-arming Brad Ziegler stepped into a ninth-inning role Thursday and earned the save that secured a much-needed win for the Diamondbacks, a 5-3 victory over the Brewers.
“I knew we were going to bring ‘Ziggy’ in,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “He got the job done.”
It was less than 24 hours earlier that Gibson fumed over his bullpen’s inability to lock down a game. Heath Bell had blown his fifth save, the D-backs’ league-leading 19th, in an eventual 14-inning loss to the Dodgers. Entering Thursday’s game, Gibson had no anointed closer and planned to determine his relievers’ usage based on the situation.
It turned out to be Ziegler, who had been given a heads-up to be ready to close and was happy to do it.
“It’s fun,” Ziegler said. “You get a big adrenaline rush. Obviously I didn’t want to start off with a hit batter, put the tying run at the plate right away, but I just tried to rely on my defense and get the groundballs.”
Ziegler eventually put the tying run on first base with one out but avoided any further bullpen drama by getting the final two outs on a strikeout and a groundout. It was a badly needed win for the D-backs after they were swept by the Dodgers and a badly needed save the day after a deflating meltdown.
“It’s tough to get swept at home, no matter who it’s against, no matter what the situation is,” Ziegler said. “To bounce back with a win, it’s a good start for us. Hopefully we take care of business these last three games (before the All-Star break).”
Ziegler has some closing experience in his five-year career. With Oakland in 2008, he converted 11 of 13 save chances, and in 2009 he converted seven of 10. He also had one save in 2011 and one earlier this season.
Ziegler is not the stereotypical closer type who throws hard and strikes a lot of batters out, rather just getting outs with grounders, many of them double-play balls.
“I like having the (strikeout) option, but that’s not what I’m trying to do,” Ziegler said. “When they had first and third, one out, I felt like if I wasn’t going to get a double play right there, I had to get a punchout.”
So does Ziegler get the next crack at the final three outs if the D-backs find themselves in a save situation again Friday or over the weekend?
“He could,” Gibson said, not ready to commit to one closer. “We’ll see.”
If nothing else, Ziegler got the D-backs through another day. With a welcome rest coming at the All-Star break, that’s not insignificant, but the D-backs still have a few games to go and could face another save situation that requires a choice.
Ziegler’s successful save Thursday would not have been possible if not for starter Wade Miley’s strong eight-inning outing. Miley gave up three runs on eight hits, giving him a 1.88 ERA over his last four starts. Moreover, he saved a bullpen taxed by Wednesday’s marathon game. The effort came even after a rough start that saw Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy hit a two-run homer in the first and center fielder Carlos Gomez add a solo shot in the third.
“Everybody knows what happened last night,” Miley said. “I just wanted to go as deep as possible. I was fortunate I started feeling better as the game went on, got into a little bit of a rhythm and was able to get through eight.
“I knew the bullpen was down there just probably praying that I could get deep into the game to save those guys, so that’s what I was trying to do.”
More efforts like Miley’s will be paramount for the D-backs to hold off the red-hot Dodgers in the NL West, but just as important — if not more important — will be the bullpen’s ability to make good on those starts by ensuring that they produce wins.
Whether it’s Ziegler or someone else taking the mound for the next save opportunity remains to be seen. For now, the D-backs will take it one game at a time.