After the Diamondbacks’ bullpen blew its major league-leading 19th save opportunity in a 7-5, 14-inning loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday, Gibson made it clear that things must change in the late innings.
Role reversals. A trade or two. Promotions.
It sounds as if anything and everything could be on the table — anything that will keep the D-backs from struggling to finish games the way they have struggled so far.
“We have to figure out some things so that some guys get some outs later in the game. That’s (almost) 20 times. It is just too hard on a team. They play all the innings like this. It’s a shame,” Gibson said.
“We have to be much better to continue to stay in the race than we have been in the first half. That’s record-setting. We try to put guys in situations, and it hasn’t worked. We will certainly look at different options.”
Wednesday’s loss was especially grating given that it came n a swing game against the suddenly formidable Dodgers.
The D-backs needed only one more out in the ninth inning when closer Heath Bell walked Adrian Gonzalez and gave up singles to Hanley Ramirez and A.J. Ellis, the two who later homered in the top of the 14th for the final margin.
“Unacceptable,” Gibson said of Bell’s walk.
Added Bell, “I’ve faced Adrian a lot. He knows me. I know him. A pitch got away from me, and I ended up walking him. I thought I could get Hanley out, but it didn’t happen that way. I feel really bad because I let everybody down. We definitely should have won that game.”
The Dodgers appear to be the D-backs’ main challenger in the NL West moving forward, and by sweeping the three-game series here, they moved within 1 1/2 games of first place with four games remaining until the All-Star break.
Los Angeles has won 15 of its last 18 games, Ramirez and Yasiel Puig are hitting close to .400, and the rotation headed by Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and now Ricky Nolasco may have replaced the Giants’ as the top 1-2-3 in the division. The Dodgers have gained seven games on the D-backs since they took two out of three games in the brawl series June 10-12, and it is hard to image them going away soon.
Which makes it more imperative to win the games you should, the reason the D-backs signed J.J. Putz to a contract extension and traded for Bell over the winter.
J.J. Putz opened the season as the closer, and he had his share of difficulties before suffering a strained right ulnar collateral ligament on May 7 that kept him out for seven weeks. Bell took over from there, and while he leads the team with 15 saves, he recently went through a stretch in which he gave up home runs in five straight games and in six of 10. He has converted only two of his last five save chances.
The D-backs have won seven of the games in which they have blown saves, but that is doing it the hard way, the more stressful way. The season is long enough without having to sweat out every game.
“It’s tough to keep grinding as a position player,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “I still believe in my guys. I still trust them, but you have to make adjustments. Obviously it’s tough, but it’s not easy for them, either.”
Part of the reason the D-backs lead the major leagues with 19-one run victories and 10 extra-inning victories is that the bullpen has put them in those spots so often. Part of the reason they won the 2011 NL West pennant was the Putz and his crew were so efficient, but the opposite has been the case this year. Bell, Putz and setup man David Hernandez have blown five saves apiece, with all three tied for second in the league behind the Cubs’ James Russell, who has six. Putz’s ERA is 3.63, but the others have marks over 4.50.
Brad Ziegler could be an option moving forward. The D-backs like him in the seventh inning, or whenever runners are on base, because of his severe ground-ball lean. The main thing is that he gets outs, and that is what this situations needs.
The last-place Brewers, who come to town Thursday, have relievers they appear willing to deal in Francisco Rodriguez, Mike Gonzalez and John Axford. But Rodriguez does not appear to be a good fit, and Axford — at $5 million this season — costs too much.
The D-backs have told other teams that they will not trade young starters Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley in any deal, but top minor league position players such as Matt Davidson and Chris Owings could be available at the right price. The price, of course, is the sticking point.
It is a puzzle that, 10 minutes after an excruciating loss, Gibson was not ready to tackle.