Firmly believing that the standings do not lie, the Diamondbacks moved to address a present bullpen need Wednesday while deciding that whatever is wrong with Ian Kennedy, they do not have the time to address it this season.
Joe Thatcher, seen as a left-handed Brad Ziegler, and minor league right-hander Matt Stites were obtained from San Diego as the D-backs’ only trade deadline additions. Thatcher gives them a situational specialist to fortify a bullpen that has failed in 19 save conversions, the second-most in the majors.
It cost them Kennedy, who had declined so rapidly since his 21-4 record in 2011 that he was in danger of losing his spot in the starting rotation when Brandon McCarthy and Trevor Cahill came off the disabled list. McCarthy is to start in Boston this weekend, now Sunday it appears, and Cahill could be back the following week after at least one more rehab start.
The D-backs also were heavy players in the scrums for starters Jake Peavy and to a lesser degree Bud Norris, but general manager Kevin Towers chose not to pull the trigger on deals that would have cost them a top minor-league prospect such as Archie Bradley, Tyler Skaggs, Chris Owings or Matt Davidson.
“The bullpen, we definitely need some help there,” Eric Chavez told FOX Sports Arizona. “I just hope it’s not too little, too late.”
The D-backs fell 3 ½ games behind the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers and 4 ½ behind Cincinnati for the second wild card spot when Kennedy lost to Tampa Bay on Tuesday, the 10th time he time he had tried and failed for his 50th career victory. He has not won since June 1, and his ERA in that time is 5.82.
Arizona’s Opening Day starter for the last three seasons, Kennedy is 3-8 with a 5.23 ERA this season. Scouts have have said he has not been able to keep the ball as low in the strike zone as he has in the past, and opponents are hitting .293 against him with men on base.
“It’s kind of crazy when it happens in the middle of the season instead of the offseason,” Kennedy said. “Part of me is excited in going back to California. This team is special here, too. A lot of great friends who I am going to be friends with forever.”
Towers identified a left-handed specialist as the prime area of need Sunday, and this is the second time he has gone to Thatcher, who he acquired for San Diego from Milwaukee at the 2007 deadline in exchange for Scott Linebrink.
“It’s exciting to get traded,” Thatcher said. “It’s a big deal. It brings excitement to be in a pennant race. That is all you ask for, is to win. I’m looking forward to getting over there and helping out and doing whatever they need from me.”
Thatcher, 3-1 with a 2.15 ERA this season, is holding left-handers to a .215 batting average with no extra-base hits this season and .209 in his career. He’s pitched 30 innings over 50 appearances, struck out 29, walked only four and given up 28 hits. He is 8-11 with a 3.18 ERA in his career.
“A workhorse,” Towers said. “He’ll take the ball each and every night. Tough (arm) angle. He can pitch back-to-back-to-back nights. Looking at our division and some of the tough left-handers in the NL West, he will be a guy that ‘Gibby’ has a lot of confidence in to get outs late in the game.”
Kennedy, who earns $4.265 million this season, has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining and could have been in line for a raise to $5.5 million-$6 million in 2014. Arbitration awards are based on service time as well as a player’s current form.
With Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley and Randall Delgado under control and McCarthy and Cahill under contract for 2014, the D-backs may have felt their resources were best spent elsewhere.
“With us right now, the strength of our organization is our pitching depth,” said Towers, also mentioning Class AA left-hander David Holmberg.
“Next year Ian was going to be arbitration eligible. It was a tough decision, but we felt if we could add some bullpen pieces now, a left-hander reliever as well as Stites, two guys we could fit into the back end of our pen. We thought now was the right time to do it. Ian is not having his best year, but that’s baseball, that happens. He did some great things for this organization.”
The passing of the July 31 deadline does not necessarily mean the Diamondbacks are done dealing. The team still has a glut of outfielders, and it’s possible a veteran like Jason Kubel could pass through waivers and be traded in August.
Zeke Spruill is scheduled to be called up from Reno to start for the D-backs against Texas in their makeup game Thursday. Spruill, who made his first trip to the majors in mid-June, has not given up an earned run in his last 31 2/3 innings at Class Reno. He shut out Tacoma, 1-0, in his last outing.
San Diego general manager Josh Byrnes said the Padres are excited to add a pitcher of Kennedy’s pedigree, even though he has struggled mightily of late.
“He is under club control through 2015, and we feel he will help us take another step forward as a team,” Byrnes said, adding that he’s not concerned about Kennedy’s recent struggles.
“A lot of deals happen that way, to the extent he has had a down year for him,” Byrnes said. “We have scouted him a lot, watched him recently and tried to assess at age 28 why that is and look at Justin Masterson or Ervin Santana. There are guys who struggled last year and are having a good year this year. We are hopeful he can come here and get back to that form he had.”
Kennedy has given up 18 home runs this season, among the most in the NL, and should benefit from the park effects of going from one of the best hitters’ parks in the league to one that greatly favors pitchers. He is expected to start Sunday against the New York Yankees.
“It’s good for Kennedy, too, to get a fresh start somewhere else,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “We all know he is better than this. He was probably putting a little too much pressure on himself. He’s a great teammate, a great guy, and he’s a great pitcher. I have no doubt.
“It is just one of those years. We all have years like that. I still believe he can pitch and is going to be good for a long time.”
Kennedy, who was traded to Arizona in an offseason deal in 2009, said understands that being traded is “part of the business. Every time we played them (Padres), they were always tough. I’m excited about going over there and being a part of it.”
Stites, 23, was 2-2 with 14 saves and a 2.08 ERA in 46 appearances at Class AA San Antonio before undergoing season-ending surgery for appendicitis on July 26. He has touched 98 mph on the radar gun, and D-backs scouts compared him to Atlanta closer Craig Kimbrel, Towers said.
The D-backs also received a compensation draft pick between the second and third rounds of the 2014 draft.