PHOENIX — Their styles are polar opposites, Death Valley to Mt. Whitney. Brad Ziegler delivers the baseball from his shoe tops, Josh Collmenter from the oustretched angle of a student who knows the answer and is eager to be called on in class.
The contrast stops there. Each is among the best in the major leagues at his given task in the Diamondbacks’ bullpen, and if national attention escapes them, their value is not lost on their teammates.
“You need them in order to win,” Diamondbacks infielder Willie Bloomquist said.
“Every good team has guys like that. They don’t care about the headlines. They don’t care about being the big-name guys. They just go out and do their job, and they do it well. They are guys you count on when everything else is kind of going haywire. They are the old reliables that you throw in there to get us out of a tough jam.”
The All-Star Game is three weeks away, and another year seems certain to pass without pitchers who do not either start games or record saves receiving a platform to show their stuff. The numbers guys always get the glory.
But a case can be made that Ziegler is the best middle reliever and Collmenter the best long reliever in the National League.
Ziegler, one of Kevin Towers’ early acquisitions, is 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA in 40 appearances, tied for second in the majors, solid numbers in themselves. But the statistic that means the most has more to do with his teammates’ success.
He has inherited 32 runners and only four have scored, the best ratio in the majors for a reliever with as many chances. Part of that is his ability to induce double plays, the reason manager Kirk Gibson has so far kept him in the seventh and eighth inning rather than in the ninth. Ziegler has gotten six double-play grounders this season after getting 21 last year, the most by a reliever in the majors.
“It is a weapon. He keeps the ball down,” D-backs catcher Miguel Montero said. “He’s funky. It’s hard to pick the ball out of his hand. You see the ball late, and when you see the ball late, you get jammed. It’s not a comfortable at-bat.”
Collmenter, 3-0 with a 2.43 ERA, is second in the National League with 40 2/3 relief innings, and he already has set a D-backs franchise record by going four innings or more in relief three times. He has won two of those games, with five innings against the Cardinals on April 3 and four more against them on June 4.
His most impressive all-in-a-day’s-work moment came last week, when he gave up one hit in six innings in an emergency role after Trevor Cahill was forced to leave in the second inning Wednesday after being struck by a line drive. It is all part of his job — he is the guy who started on 13 minutes’ notice last summer, when Joe Saunders could not get loose in the bullpen on June 22 and pitching coach Charles Nagy made the call to go with Collmenter.
“Josh never gets the value that he really deserves,” Montero said. “He is another starter for us, pretty much. He’s ready to get the ball every day. He can give you 75 quality pitches. Every time.”
Ziegler and Collmenter know anonymity comes with the turf, and they can handle that.
“I tell people all the time, the job I’m in, you only get interviewed when you do bad,” Ziegler said. “If you get three outs, no one ever talks to you. I have no problem with that. It’s part of the life.
“As a middle reliever, you are not going to rack up a whole lot of personal stats. The key is, did we win the game? We feel like when we come in, our job is to get outs and give our team a chance. This is a great late-inning team. We know all we have to do is keep it close, and these guys are going to erupt at some point.”
The D-backs have 21 come-from-behind victories and 18 victories in their last at-bat, in large part because Ziegler, Collmenter and the rest of the bullpen can keep the team close even after a rocky start. The D-backs have won nine games in which they’ve trailed by at least two runs.
“We’ve had injuries,” Bloomquist said, “but they are a good reason why we are maintaining the place we are at. Those two guys are the unsung heroes of this team. They are guys you count on to come in when the fire is burning, and they usually put it out.
Ziegler has a good idea when he will be used, but Collmenter’s role is more fluid. He could enter in the second inning, as he did last week. It could be the 12th. Whatever, he remains prepared.
“You never want to go in when a guy is hit by a comebacker or hurt, but that is what I am there for, to fill that hole and that role,” said Collmenter, who found his niche a month into 2012 after being used primarily as a starter for his first season-plus.
“There are always unique things that are going to happen. There are so many games, It is not always going to be predictable. Certain people talk about not being able to get up or be psyched in blowout games. But you still have to go out and get guys out. Being able to fill in and relish this role, I enjoy it.”