PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks bullpen had five failed save conversions on the recent road trip, but all was right with the relief corps Thursday night at Chase Field.
Closer J.J. Putz was more like his old self. His pet split-finger pitch was diving again, and the results were what the Diamondbacks have come to expect.
Putz struck out Carlos Gonzalez with splitters on his final two pitches — with the tying run on first base — to save a 3-2 victory over the Rockies and dull the memory of a road trip on which he gave up two game-tying home runs in the ninth inning.
“I was able to command the ball for the most part, both my fastball and my split. The ball felt really good out of my hand. The splits were down and got some chases, “ Putz said.
“I’ve been through rough spots before, and I’m going to go through rough spots again. It’s just a matter of being able to put it behind you and keep working and trust what you have been doing your (whole) career. That is just part of it.”
Putz received an encouraging email from his wife after giving up a two-run home run to Brandon Belt in San Francisco in the ninth inning Tuesday in a game the D-backs rallied to win 6-4 in 11 innings.
“Great news,” the message began.
Putz was not sure where she was going.
“The sun came up today,” it continued.
“That’s it, in a nutshell,” Putz said.
“It’s in anything. If a hitter goes into a slump. I’m not saying I’m the caliber of (Albert) Pujols, but when Pujols was struggling last year, everybody was like, ‘Ohmigod.’ Just give it time. His numbers are his numbers, and at the end of the season, you look at his numbers — they are right back where they usually are.”
Putz had a career-high 45 saves when the D-backs won the 2011 NL West, and he also had seasons of 36 and 40 with Seattle before injuries set him back. He had 32 saves after a tough start in 2012.
Putz’s save was his fourth, and it preserved Trevor Cahill’s first victory of the season. Putz hit 96 mph on the stadium radar gun, and his last pitch to Gonzalez was clocked at 84.
“J.J. threw the ball as good as he has thrown it all year,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “His velocity was back. Those are the best splits he threw all year.”
Cahill went five innings and Josh Collmenter went three, enabling Gibson to rest most of a bullpen that worked overtime on a nine-game road trip that included an extra-inning game on getaway day in New York and extra-inning games the last two days in San Francisco.
Putz failed to hold a one-run lead against the Yankees, and David Hernandez also was charged with two blown saves when he failed to hold eighth-inning leads, giving up three home runs in five appearances.
Gibson was satisfied that no drastic action was required to turn around a bullpen that was expected to be the strength of the team — and could still be.
“They are not walking a bunch of people. They are not losing games that way. They are healthy. They are throwing the ball well. Have they buried the back-foot sliders? No. We don’t focus on the fact that we have blown the saves. We focus on looking ahead, how can we make batter pitches in the future,” Gibson said.
“It is not a perfect picture every day. You have to endure it, which we have, very, very well.
Gibson’s advice to his two late-inning guys was simple.
“I don’t want them to overthink it. They are healthy. They are throwing the ball good. I want them to continue to prepare., With J.J., it’s his splitter. You guys have watched him. Is that a pretty good pitch for him? You might say, ‘Why did they call that pitch?’ That is one of the best pitches he throws. He usually does bury it. He just didn’t bury it that day. You just execute your pitches.”