PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks’ bullpen was a sore point in the first half of 2013, and despite a major tweak, not much has changed so far this year.
The D-backs lost four- and two-run leads while losing three of four games in their home-soil-opening series against the Giants, the latter coming when Will Harris gave up five runs in the top of the eighth inning in San Francisco’s 8-5 comeback victory at Chase Field. Angel Pagan’s three-run home run broke a 5-all tie.
It was the D-backs’ second failed save conversion in four days and could not help but resurrect the trials of 2013, when the relief corps tied for the major league high with 29 blown saves and gave up an NL-high 59 home runs.
Kirk Gibson would have none of it after the loss dropped the D-backs to 1-5, tying for the worst start in franchise history with those of the 1998, 1999 and 2003 teams. The expansion 1998 team started 1-7.
Like last year?
"This feels like this year," he said. "When your starter gives you 4 1/3 innings, it’s not ideal for anybody."
Right-hander Bronson Arroyo, delayed by a herniated disc early in spring training, admitted he was gassed after throwing 82 pitches into the fifth inning against a Giants lineup that was stacked with eight left-handed bats and included four switch-hitters. The D-backs could not have expected much more after 12 spring innings.
"It was a grind. A good lineup is going to make you work," Arroyo said.
Two-run home runs by Paul Goldschmidt (yes, off Tim Lincecum) and Mark Trumbo gave Arizona a 4-2 lead, and the bullpen got out of one jam when Oliver Perez got hazardous hitters Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval to end the fifth inning with a runner on third. Belt hit his third homer of the series in the first inning.
Josh Collmenter gave up a homer in his two innings, but Aaron Hill offset that with his third hit of the game, an RBI double in the seventh inning for a 5-3 lead.
Harris entered at that point and struck out Sandoval with a curveball before walking Hunter Pence on a borderline pitch. A double brought in one run, and after the second out, the D-backs opted to intentionally walk Buster Posey after first teasing him with two pitches outside the strike zone.
Sometimes the right strategy works out wrong, and that happened when Mike Morse grounded a single up the middle to tie the score at 5. Pagan homered one pitch later; he finished 8 for 19 with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs in the series.
Harris threw what he thought was a decent pitch, a cut fastball low in the strike zone.
"It was where I wanted to throw it," Harris said. "Hitters can hit good pitches sometimes."
Harris, who pitched well after being claimed off waivers by Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers a week into the 2013 season, has been used as the eighth-inning setup man twice in the first week, and he pitched a scoreless inning in Wade Miley’s 5-4 victory on April 1.
That role, to hold a late lead for closer Addison Reed, was to go to David Hernandez, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery last Tuesday. The D-backs are still trying to absorb that blow, and it remains to be seen how the bullpen roles will shake out. Brad Ziegler stabilized the ‘pen in the second half of 2013, converting 13 of 15 save opportunities, but the Diamondbacks seem to like using him earlier in games. His bases-loaded walk Monday tied the score in the seventh inning Monday and gave the D-backs their first failed save conversion.
Gibson said he wants to set roles, which were pretty much fixed until Hernandez’s injury. J.J. Putz, who opened the last three seasons as the closer, does not appear to be an early option for the eighth-inning role based on the way he has been used in the first week. Arizona has not used him in a high-leverage situation in his two appearances this season.
"I always try to get him built up," Gibson said. "He is getting there.
"We’re just getting into a season right now. A lot of the elements of our team have changed."
Miguel Montero was given a day off Thursday, and Gibson said he will monitor Montero’s playing time this season. "The night-to-day stuff for Miggy, we are going to try to minimize that, certainly at this point," Gibson said. Of the everyday grind, Gibson said, "I think anybody gets beat down catching. That goes for any player. I played the outfield, and after 155 games you are toast." Montero is 5 for 14 with a home run and four runs.
.522 — Paul Goldschmidt’s career batting average against Tim Lincecum after going 2 for 3 with a two-run home run and single. He is 12 for 23 in the matchup.
— Chris Owings went 7 for 14 with seven singles in the series.
— Giants righty Tim Hudson, who threw 7 2/3 shutout innings in a 2-0 victory Wednesday, has faced 201 batters at hitter-friendly Chase Field and has not given up a home run. "It’s a credit to how he commands the ball and keeps it down," San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said.
David Hernandez was back in the clubhouse Thursday, two days after his Tommy John surgery. Hernandez said Dr. James Andrews also removed a bone spur from Hernandez’s right elbow. "When I was pitching, that’s what I felt, a bone spur," Hernandez said. "I didn’t feel like I had a torn ligament. I felt like I was blindsided" by the initial diagnosis. "It’s one of things that you have to accept it. There is no reason to let it defeat you. There are plenty of pitchers that go through this and plenty of pitchers who come back from it."