Burgos pushes for D-backs bullpen spot with high-90s heat

Enrique Burgos has given up one run in eight innings this spring.

Joe Camporeale/Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Hard-thrower Enrique Burgos blossomed at Class A Visalia in 2014, when he began to throw more strikes. He has not stopped yet, one of the reasons a jump to the major leagues is not out of the question this season.

 Burgos, whose fastball was clocked at 102 mph earlier in his career, has spent this spring in the 98-99 mph range in his seven mostly dominating appearances. He has faced 49 batters and given up five hits, four walks and one run. In a scoreless two-inning appearance on Tuesday, he struck out five.

 He has the kind of power arm that teams like the Dodgers seemingly never run out of; the kind the D-backs have not had a lot of in recent years. It is a selling point.

 "Enrique has done a really good job. He has done everything he’s had to do to make this team," D-backs manager Chip Hale said. "It is going to come down to numbers, where we are with some of our veterans and health, and what we need length-wise. He’s right in the mix."

 Parts of the seven-man bullpen are set. The D-backs have identified closer Addison Reed and setup men Brad Ziegler, Evan Marshall and Oliver Perez as locks, and Randall Delgado would go there if he is not in the rotation. Daniel Hudson’s landing spot — rotation or bullpen — also plays into it. If Hudson makes the rotation, the D-backs have talked about keeping two long relievers in the bullpen, because Hudson will be on a 85-pitch limit this season, Hale said. Delgado could be one. Former starters Vidal Nuno and Andrew Chafin also have thrown multiple innings, and both are left-handers if the D-backs wants a second lefty behind Perez.

Matt Reynolds and Dan Runzler provide other left-handed options. Matt Stites is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season after being shut down because of elbow soreness in his last throwing session, which also will play into the Opening day roster makeup.

Before last season, Burgos refined his delivery while working with his father, a former major league left-hander of the same name. The two worked on mechanics and also on the mental side of the game. Burgos played youth soccer rather than baseball in his youth in his native Panama, and even at 24 is relatively new to the game.

 The result was eye-opening. Burgos was 3-3 with a 2.47 ERA and 29 saves in 30 opportunities as Visalia’s primary closer. He struck out 83 in 54-2/3 innings, an average of 13.7 whiffs per nine innings. Just as relevant, Burgos cut his walks drastically. After walking 49 in 46-1/3 innings at Class A South Bend in 2013, he walked 26 last season.

Anderson solid over 6 innings

 Visalia manager Robby Hammock, who knows how power can play — he caught Randy Johnson’s perfect game — had a dugout view of Burgos’ maturation.

 "You saw a transformation last year from previous year," said Hammock, who moved up a level to manage Double-A Mobile this season. "His mentality on the mound . . . he was just going to fill up the strike zone. ‘Here is 98 miles an hour. Here’s a nasty slider. If you can hit it, hit it.’ I’m going to get you before you get me type of thing. The next thing you know, save after save after save after save. 

 "Gil (Heredia, pitching coach) was really good with him. He was under control. Never got flustered. Just was the same guy every night."

 Burgos, 6-foot-4 and 251 pounds, worked with his father on his slider grip before last season, and the slider proved a potent weapon against hitters who were hunting the fastball.

 "You see those swings that he gets," Hammock said. "He blows people away with fastballs, then he sees guys start to cheat, and the next thing you know he throws a slider and they are swinging when the ball is not even close. In good fastball counts, he could drop his slider in there when he needs to. That put him over the top."

CARDINALS CORNER

 Burgos finished 2014 with a strong Arizona Fall League season, going 1-1 with four saves a 3.65 ERA in 10 appearances, the first seven of which were scoreless. That did not keep him from continuing to adjust over the winter, when he and his father worked on his fastball grip. This spring, his fastball has shown some down-and-in movement to left-handers. Two of his strikeouts in Tuesday’s appearance on Tuesday came on sinking fastballs, and the other three were on sliders.

 Asked Thursday if Burgos might he need more development in the minors, Hale said: "He has the ability throw his off-speed for a strike any time he wants. Ninety-eight miles an hour, I don’t know what other development he might need. 

 "We always say spring training is dangerous because you can see the best of a guy. We saw him in the Fall League. The same way. We’re confident what he can do. I think he’s earned a spot. We’ll have to wait and see how all the numbers turn out and what the organization wants to do. It’s always nice to have guys who can throw in the upper 90s. They can make a few more mistakes and get away from them."

 Burgos is content to let it play out.

 "I don’t think about that," Burgos said. "I just keep trying to get better every day. Every time they give me the ball I try to get people out. I feel like if I keep doing what I am doing, wherever they send me, wherever I go, I will keep doing the same stuff." 

 Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter