Arroyo, Collmenter, Bolsinger ‘a new crew’ of craftsmen
PHOENIX — Bronson Arroyo embraces a challenge.
Arroyo, his father, his uncle and two friends built a house from the ground up in the winter following the 2002 season. They poured the slab, framed the structure and did all the finish work on the Florida place that Arroyo still calls home. The sense of satisfaction far outweighed the couple of broken ribs and the lacerated liver that Arroyo sustained on the job.
Arroyo brings a similar attention to detail to his pitching, and he is not alone in the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation. In a league where the average fastball sits between 90 and 92 mph and is often faster, the D-backs have three starters who very rarely (if ever) get to that level.
You have heard of crafty left-handers, a descriptor that became permanently attached to slow/slower/slowest left-hander Jamie Moyer as he hit his prime.
Meet the right-handed craftsmen: Arroyo, Josh Collmenter and Mike Bolsinger, a big-guts group that is the D-backs’ answer to perceptive probing over pure power pitching.
"We’re like the one percentile in the league of guys who can’t hit 90 miles an hour who are starters," Arroyo said with a smile.
They wear their style proudly. Hard throwers can get away with mistake pitches because of their velocity alone. Theirs is a finer art.
"If you have 98 (mph) … if you have all the wood you want from the lumber yard and it is cut perfectly in the sizes you want, anybody can build a house," Arroyo said.
Taking those smaller details that are not cut out perfectly and making something worth value is how I’ve had to survive in the game. … It is the way I’ve had to pitch, because I wasn’t gifted to having an amazing arm to throw that hard.
"But try building a house from one that just blew apart from a tornado. It is much harder, because you don’t have everything you need. Taking those smaller details that are not cut out perfectly and making something worth value is how I’ve had to survive in the game. Trying to figure someone out. It is the way I’ve had to pitch, because I wasn’t gifted to having an amazing arm to throw that hard. I love being that style of a guy. I think every guy who is that style enjoys it, because it’s being outside the box a little bit and not being the norm.
"What it really is is being the underdog and finding a way to survive without the best of equipment."
Arroyo has made it work throughout his career, averaging 13 victories and 207 innings in the previous 10 seasons with a fastball that averages 87 mph, a changeup that averages 76 and a curveball that averages 70, according to FanGraphs. His curve can drop into the high 60s, as it has done this year. Throw in several arm angles and the ability to add and subtract off each pitch and Arroyo has more options than most.
Collmenter and Bolsinger are relatively new to the club, but both do their pitching the same way. Collmenter combines an 87 mph fastball with a 77 mph changeup, according to FanGraphs, while mixing in the occasional curveball. Bolsinger relies almost exclusively on an 87 mph cut fastball and a 78 mph curve.
Another requirement of the club is the ability to throw quality strikes. Arroyo has averaged 2.5 walks every nine innings while winning 140 games in his 15-year career. He was third in the majors in walks per nine innings (1.5) last season and fourth in 2012 (1.6). Collmenter has averaged 2.3 walks per nine in his career, and Bolsinger has only three walks in 15 2/3 innings in his three major league starts.
Collmenter was 10-10 and finished fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2011, and he has had similar success since replacing Randall Delgado in the rotation this year, going 1-2 with a 4.30 ERA in four appearances. He is 14-14 with a 4.06 ERA in 39 career starts and 7-6 with a 2.49 ERA in 77 relief appearances. Throw out a rocky April in 2012, when he allowed 20 earned runs, and his career ERA is 3.09.
"Pitching is big-time feel, especially for me. I’m not going out there rocking and firing 95," said Collmenter, who has a severe overhand delivery. "I want to make sure I am on the corners and especially locating down. With my deception, my angle, if I can pitch down, a lot of times I get those high pop-ups. A lot of guys say they try to hit the ball level, but they end up underneath it. So if I can throw down in the zone from that angle, it helps me out quite a bit. I’m comfortable in what I can do.
"The toughest pitch to hit, no matter what, is a well-located fastball. It doesn’t matter the speed. If you can locate it well, it’s still tough to hit, especially inside, because hitters don’t like it inside. I’ve never been a guy who overpowered. I’ve learned I don’t need to try to throw it past people, because usually if you try to throw it harder, the mechanics go to crap and the ball doesn’t go where you want it to. I’ve always prided myself on being able to locate pitches and to throw them to a spot and have everything work off that."
Bolsinger used trial and error to find his pet pitches while at the University of Arkansas. Fooling around with a curveball grip one day, he tucked his right index finger all the way into the cover of the ball and started throwing. The ball had a natural break, and Bolsinger found the delivery easy to repeat. Another time, when he and Arkansas teammate Drew Smyly (now with the Tigers) had blisters on their index fingers, they tried taking some pressure off that finger while throwing fastballs. The cutter was born.
"I’m not going to blow it past you," said Bolsinger, who is 1-1 with a 5.74 ERA and is set to make his fourth start of the season Monday against the Brewers.
"Bronson, Josh, us three, really, we are not going to blow it past you, but we are going to hit our spots and we are going to make it move. Bronson is like the grandfather of it. There are not a lot of us out there. We’re going to use our location, spot the ball up and use our off-speed."
Arroyo, certainly affected by a spring back injury, had his best start of the season in a 2-0 victory over the Padres on Friday, when he gave up only three singles in seven innings. He touched 90 mph on the radar gun, which made his off-speed stuff even more difficult to attack.
Collmenter and Bolsinger consider Arroyo the godfather of command and control.
"They’ve created the new crew," Arroyo said. "We’ll have to wait the next couple of months to see how it pans out."