D-backs seeking answers to bullpen struggles

With bullpen continuing to struggle, D-backs looking internally, externally for solutions.

PHOENIX -- After the Diamondbacks bullpen blew its league-leading 19th save against the Dodgers on Wednesday in a game in an eventual 14-inning loss, manager Kirk Gibson remained at the park until 1:30 a.m. General manager Kevin Towers stayed until 3 a.m.

Both were trying to figure out the D-backs' next move.

After getting swept by the Dodgers and watching their NL West lead shrink to 1 1/2 games, the Diamondbacks are searching for answers to a continually disappointing bullpen.

"We're trying to look every which way we can to hopefully find the right ingredient here," Towers said Thursday. "We talked at length last night, just talking about where do we go and how do we tweak things here a little bit, maybe give other people opportunities as we get into the second half of the season."

The D-backs' biggest issue is the closer position. Heath Bell, J.J. Putz and David Hernandez have five blown saves each, which trails only James Russell of the Cubs for most in the NL. On Wednesday, Hernandez and Bell coughed up a two-run lead to send the game to extra innings. Josh Collmenter eventually allowed back-to-back home runs that won it for the Dodgers.

Gibson was asked before Thursday's series opener who would close if there were a save situation, and his answer revealed an ongoing process of evaluation.

"I don't know that I have the answer right now," Gibson said. "It will just be a wait-and-see deal."

The D-backs are taking the next four days and the All-Star break to evaluate their options at the back end and determine how best to move forward. The job could remain with Bell, Putz or Hernandez. Setup man Brad Ziegler, who has been quietly dominant this season, may be an option as well and has closed before, albeit not since his days in Oakland.

Towers suggested the next closer might not be on the 25-man roster but rather the 40-man roster, though it's unclear who that might be. Either way, the D-backs are looking within first.

"It's not to say we're not looking outside the organization, but I always try to give every opportunity to our internal options," Towers said. "That's guys that are currently on our ballclub, in our bullpen and in our system. I think if those don't work out then you need to be a little more aggressive externally.

"We've still got two and a half weeks before the deadline. We'll have enough time to maybe look at some of our internal options first and foremost before we get real aggressive looking externally."

The D-backs could turn to the trade market for middle relief or a new closer, and they've been linked to some of the Brewers' relievers.  It appears, though, that all bullpen decisions will be made with great consideration.

"We'll probably have a better idea what our plan is when we open up against the Giants next Friday," Towers said of the return from the All-Star break. "We're going to weigh all the options we have here. We're in a tight divisional race right now. Every game could be the difference in winning the division or winning a wild card or not."

On the other end of things, the D-backs have also reportedly show interest in upgrading the starting rotation, which has been streaky and underachieving all season. They have been tied to Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo and a few others, but again, it appears the D-backs are more eager to work from within first.

Towers mentioned prospects Archie Bradley and David Holmberg as possibilities, but Plan A is waiting on the returns of Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill, who are both on the disabled list.

McCarthy (shoulder) threw a simulated game Tuesday and will throw another on Sunday. Towers said McCarthy could be ready for a rehab assignment after the All-Star break and back by the end of July as long as he has no setbacks. Cahill (hip/shoulder) is expected to take a little longer.

"Both of those guys have been effective major league pitchers for contending teams. To know that we've got those guys, it's kind of like trade-deadline guys. You get them in the right spot and they're pitching with confidence, good things can happen.

"I'm not as concerned probably (with) starting pitching and looking externally for starting pitching as much as trying to get our bullpen in order."

The Diamondbacks have also been pleased with how Randall Delgado and Tyler Skaggs, who was optioned to Single-A Visalia to remain on a routine during the All-Star break, have filled in. Either or both might have the opportunity to remain in the rotation going forward.

The D-backs' overall pitching situation, as Towers suggested, should be clearer in about a week. Or it could be even murkier. That will depend on what answers the D-backs are able to find in their search.

"We're gathering our thoughts," Gibson said. "The (loss) last night really stung. A lot of them have. I think everybody's frustrated with the results.

"In the interim, I'll do things a little differently."

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