PHOENIX — Right now, there isn’t even much more to be said about the Diamondbacks bullpen, which on Wednesday notched a blown save for the second straight night to increase its major league lead to 10.
Overworked? Probably. Too many mistake pitches? Perhaps. Whatever the explanation, the D-backs bullpen has fallen into disarray no one could have seen coming when the team came to spring training with what some regarded as the most stacked bullpen in the NL or second only to the Giants, who completed a series sweep of the D-backs with a 9-6 win Wednesday.
“It just seems like a lot of us are going bad right now,” setup man David Hernandez said. “It’s just the way the season goes sometimes. It’s only a matter of time before we all figure it out.”
With a back-end combination of Heath Bell, Hernandez and J.J. Putz, the D-backs were confident they could shorten games and hold onto leads with ease. Now, one month into the season, all three are floundering.
Hernandez was the culprit Wednesday, giving up a home run in the eighth inning to Giants first baseman Brandon Belt after issuing two walks. The homer gave the Giants a 7-6 lead and Hernandez his third blown save of the year, all of which have come against the Giants in a span of 10 games.
“I threw the first two (pitches) exactly where I wanted to throw them, and the third one was right where (Belt) wanted me to throw it,” Hernandez said. “Just through the last week and a half, two weeks for me I just haven’t been able to locate very many pitches.”
A despondent Hernandez seemed more upset about the two walks than the home run. Manger Kirk Gibson shared that feeling.
“That was the worst part about it,” Gibson said. “They walked four guys in two innings, and they all scored. You’re not helping yourself when you walk (Hunter) Pence and you walk (Gregor) Blanco to get to Belt, who’s been hot against us.”
Putz was the hot topic before Wednesday’s game after he blew his fourth save of the year on a Pablo Sandoval home run in the ninth inning Tuesday. Some wondered if the struggling 36-year old would retain his role as the D-backs’ closer with just one fewer blown save in a month than he had all of 2012.
Rather than address that question one way or another, Gibson addressed his bullpen situation as a whole. With an abundance of close or extra-inning games, Gibson reasoned, the bullpen has faced a heavy workload.
“We’ve used our pitching more than most teams,” Gibson said. “We haven’t been able to manage the bullpen like you’d like to.
“I’m just going to have to be really alert to not pushing guys like J.J. or anybody else on the staff.”
Bell, who the D-backs hoped would return to form with a change of scenery this offseason, has also struggled to remain consistent. After a stretch of good outings, Bell blew his first save last Saturday and Wednesday gave up two runs in the ninth inning.
“We’ve just made some bad pitches, and it’s haunted us,” Bell said. “When we make a bad pitch, they hit it. They don’t miss it right now.”
The woes have also extend lately to ever-reliable groundball machine Brad Ziegler, who has given up more runs (3) in his last 2 1/3 innings than he did in his first 13 2/3 this season (2).
“When you see Ziegler throwing the ball not where he wants to, that’s not how he’s been throwing so that kind of tells you something,” Gibson said. “Maybe we need to give him some more time to freshen up.”
Josh Collmenter and Tony Sipp have been solid, and Matt Reynolds has been the D-backs’ best reliever. Reynolds extended his career high scoreless game streak to 17 Wednesday.
But when the closer isn’t closing games and the setup man isn’t setting them up, things are bound to go wrong. The Giants, especially, have given the D-backs trouble in the late innings, collecting five of seven home runs in the eighth inning or later and scoring nine runs this series after the seventh inning.
“This is a tough time,” Gibson said. “We’ve just got to pick ourselves up. The off day will be a good time to come in tomorrow, go to San Diego and move on.”