After being demoted to bullpen early in season, Josh Collmenter has thrived in long-relief role.
By TYLER LOCKMANFS Arizona
PHOENIX — In baseball, as with anything else, no one ever wants to lose his job. Such was the case with Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher
Josh Collmenter, who was bumped from the rotation to the bullpen after just four starts.
Collmenter took the demotion in stride, though, embracing his new role as a reliever and thriving since making the switch.
"It's helped me get back on track, and I've really enjoyed that," Collmenter said. "Wherever I fit in, if it were a spot start or just filling some innings to save the bullpen a little bit, I'm happy to do that."
When he was moved to the bullpen, Collmenter was certainly off track. In 18 1/3 innings as a starter, he allowed 20 earned runs and surrendered six home runs. The D-backs won only one of his starts, and even then they had to rally out of a 6-0 hole.
After 10 days of rest, Collmenter made his first appearance out of the bullpen, throwing three scoreless innings after Patrick Corbin — his replacement at the time — allowed four runs in 3 1/3 innings. Collmenter now has racked up 18 2/3 innings of work as a reliever and allowed just three runs, giving him a 1.45 ERA as a reliever. He has also struck out 18 batters while walking just two.
"He's made perfect for it," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He prepares himself well. When he comes in, the good thing about it is he throws strikes."
Moreover, Gibson likes Collmenter as a reliever because of his deceptive pitching style. Because of his unusual delivery and because he typically only sees opposing hitters once in relief, hitters don’t have the time to adjust they would were he starting.
"Especially against teams I haven't pitched against a whole lot," Collmenter said. "Against teams in the division, they've seen me enough. But teams outside the division, if I didn’t start against them last year or maybe just had one start, there's definitely (an advantage) because it's a different look."
Another luxury that has come with the move, Collmenter said, has been extra time to work on his curveball. With a starting pitcher's arsenal, Collmenter has more options than many relievers and has felt good going to his breaking ball, which he said has been effective so far.
While Collmenter certainly would have loved to continue as a starter, it didn't take long for him to embrace his role in the bullpen. Had he not done so and taken to it so quickly, he could have been at risk of returning to the minor leagues. But he seems to have carved out a new niche, at least for the time being.
The transition to the bullpen has not come without challenges, though, as Collmenter has had to readjust to thinking like a reliever and preparing accordingly. His experience in the bullpen last season helped, but the lack of regularity can be a challenge.
"It's not always the easiest, because you never know when you're going to pitch," Collmenter said. "It could be a couple times in a row and then the starters get on a good streak like they have been and you don't pitch for a while. You have to be ready to fill a hole wherever."
Recently, Collmenter has gone a few long stretches without seeing game action. Before throwing one scoreless inning Monday in the victory over the Mariners, he hadn't pitched in 10 days. Gibson said Collmenter is good about getting bullpen sessions and extra work in to stay sharp during those periods, which also keep him available should the team need a long outing from him.
"That's why he's there," Gibson said. "He could pitch an inning — we actually got him ready very quick (Monday) — (and) he can pitch length. He's got a good makeup for that."
Collmenter is happy to pitch in whatever role right now, but his future as a starter — at least for Arizona — is unclear. The D-backs have top prospects Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and Patrick Corbin waiting for a chance in the majors, so barring injuries in the rotation Collmenter could remain a reliever for the foreseeable future.
"I'd always love to start. I came up as a starter, but whatever I can to do help out and wherever I fit in is for people in the organization to decide," Collmenter said. "I just hope I can be successful in whichever role so it gives them options."