LOS ANGELES — Heath Bell believes closers are born, not made, and he is back in that role after an elbow injury forced J.J. Putz to the disabled list Wednesday. It is not how Bell would have chosen to return to the ninth inning, but he does like the fit.
“I just thrive in it,” Bell said.
“You know how they say closers are just kind of weird and out there. Born that way. I think I’m one of them. You’re all there but you are not, you know. You might have a really long beard, a flavor saver. I don’t know what I am. A big kid, I guess.”
Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson affirmed Wednesday afternoon that Bell will be his closer, and Bell verified the decision by working around Skip Schumacher’s leadoff double in the ninth inning to preserve a 3-2 victory and give Arizona a three-game sweep of the Dodgers.
Bell also saved Tuesday’s 5-3 victory in Los Angeles after Putz left with an injury and has converted three of his four save attempts this season. David Hernandez, who is 0 for 3 in save situations, will remain as a primary setup man.
“We’ll try Heath for right now,” Gibson said earlier Wednesday. “He’s got all the experience. He’s done it a lot. Don’t really want to move David. If (Heath) is not available, then we’ll have to decide what we are going to do.”
Bell had 42, 47 and 43 saves with San Diego from 2009-11 and said he once was used five days in a row and eight out of 10. He was obtained in a three-team trade with Miami and Oakland this winter that also landed Cliff Pennington and sent Chris Young to Oakland.
“He’s pitched very well,” Gibson said. “He’s had a couple of bad outings, but other than that he’s been very good. He feels good about himself. He’s starting to duplicate where he wants to throw the ball, and he’s able to pitch to hitters’ weaknesses.”
Bell is 2-0 with three saves and a 4.40 ERA in 15 games, but he has been scored upon in only two of his last 13 outings. Hernandez is 2-2 with a 4.02 ERA. He had nine saves in July 2011, when Putz was on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis, but he has not shown that same form recently. Hernandez has given up seven runs (four home runs) in his last nine appearances.
“I’m going to go out and do my best to help this team win, if I’m pitching the ninth inning or the eighth inning,” Bell said. “I can’t say thanks enough to everybody that’s helped me out here. J.J. has been a part of it, helping me get back on track. I feel like I’ve been back on track for a couple of weeks now.”
Expected to be a strength of the team, the bullpen’s largely reputable work has been overshadowed by some epic failures. Its 2.98 ERA is 10th in the majors leagues, but the D-backs have a major league-high 10 blown save opportunities. Putz, 5 for 9 in save chances, is 2-1 with a 4.26 ERA.
Somewhat overlooked has been the pitching of earlier-game relievers Matt Reynolds (0-0, 0.00 ERA in 17 appearances), holdovers Brad Ziegler (1-1, 3.06) and Josh Collmenter (1-0, 2.65) and new situational specialist Tony Sipp (1-1, 2.70). Reynolds had two saves in San Francisco two weeks ago, and Gibson hinted that some of that group also could get save chances.
“It’s just a different rotation, so we are going to have to figure out how to rotate guys around,” Gibson said.
Putz was given an MRI on Tuesday afternoon in Phoenix. Gibson said the results were not immediately available, although he appears resigned to the fact that Putz will be out awhile.
“We know he is not going to be back any time soon. We’ll know fairly quickly” the extent of the injury, Gibson said. “Hopefully J.J. won’t be out that long, but if he is, we have some guys who have done it before.”
Putz, who had 77 saves in his first two seasons with the D-backs, missed the final four months of the 2009 season after having surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. He said he felt stiffness in his elbow and shooting pains in his fingers during the final three pitches of Tuesday night’s four-pitch walk to Nick Punto, the only batter he faced before walking off the field with trainer Ken Crenshaw.
Right-hander Will Harris, claimed on waivers from Oakland on April 6, was promoted from Triple-A Reno to take Putz’s spot on the roster. Harris was 0-0 with two saves and a 4.63 ERA in 12 appearances in Reno.