PHOENIX –- The Diamondbacks added a fresh arm to their bullpen when they activated Takashi Saito from the disabled list Saturday, the first time Saito has been with the team this season.
The D-backs have succeeded at limiting their relievers’ workload — David Hernandez leads the bullpen with 40 1/3 innings, a figure that is not even in the National League’s top 20 — but Saito adds a veteran presence and could be especially valuable if he shows the form he displayed the last time the D-backs faced him, when he made three scoreless appearances for the Brewers in the 2011 NLDS.
“We saw Saito as somebody who has a ton of experience and knows how to pitch in leverage situations. I think that’s an advantage for us,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.
Gibson and Saito met Friday after Saito pitched two 1-2-3 innings with the D-backs’ squad in the Arizona League. Saito told Gibson he was ready for better competition.
“I said, ‘Well, there is pretty good competition here,'” Gibson said.
Saito, 42, suffered a strained calf two days before the start of the regular season and has been on the disabled list since. He suffered a setback during an early rehab assignment at Class AAA Reno, then suffered an illness that kept him out for several weeks and forced him to start his throwing program over.
“He’s confident and feels ready to go. He told me he was 100 percent healthy. His calf’s good. His shoulder’s good. No sickness. He’s ready to dedicate himself to this team,” Gibson said.
Saito probably will be used in the sixth or seventh inning to begin with, Gibson said, although that role could evolve. Saito has 82 saves and a 2.18 ERA in his six major league seasons, the first of which he spent as the Dodgers’ closer.
“If somebody is down (unavailable), I’d put him in later. He’s got a lot of experience. Every year he has ever pitched, he’s had great results. We are counting on that when he tells us he is ready to pitch, he is ready to navigate himself through the lineup,” Gibson said.
Saito has experience in pressure situations, as he gave up only two hits in three innings against the D-backs in the NLDS last season and followed that up with four scoreless innings against St. Louis in the NLCS.
At this stage in his career, Saito is not a pitcher who will be used every day. He pitched in two consecutive games only once last season, and Gibson said he wants to avoid overuse.
“He’s going to be a little rusty, probably. We won’t be able to throw him back to back — maybe an inning one day, a third of an inning the next day. But I wouldn’t say an inning and an inning or anything like that,” Gibson said.
Saito, who signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract over the winter, spent his first three seasons in the U.S. with Los Angeles before playing one year each with Boston, Atlanta and Milwaukee. He is 21-15 in his career with a 2.18 ERA.