SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Diamondbacks long reliever Josh Collmenter led a group of rookies to the Arizona Renaissance Festival in Apache Junction on Saturday for the second year in a row. He’s become the ringleader of what may become an annual rookie hazing ritual.
It could hardly be more fitting that Collmenter would be the player to take on the responsibility, as he’s also become a renaissance man of sorts within the D-backs’ bullpen. Since losing his spot in the starting rotation last season, Collmenter has grown to appreciate the value of his long relief and utility role that asks more of him than any other reliever.
“Colly’s a guy who has the demeanor to do whatever he’s asked, (and) he can do it on short notice,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “I would throw him virtually anywhere in a game. Anywhere. I know he can handle it.”
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Gibson said he still sees Collmenter as his long relief man but also as an option to make spot starts or emergency starts, like he did last year when Joe Saunders had trouble getting warmed up before a game. That’s a pretty big difference from how Gibson saw Collmenter this time last year.
Heading into spring training a year ago, Collmenter had a spot in the starting rotation locked up following an impressive 2011 season. He struggled through the spring, though, and went 0-2 with a 9.82 ERA in four starts to start the season, which cost him his spot in the rotation.
While Collmenter, now 27 years old, certainly wasn’t looking to take up a place in the bullpen, the move proved very successful. In 34 innings of relief, Collmenter posted a 1.32 ERA and came up big more than once in games in which the D-backs’ starter didn’t last long. This helped the new job grow on him.
“I just realized how much it means to the bullpen if you can get a guy that saves innings,” Collmeneter said. “Whether the starter goes deep and they save innings, or if the long guy has to go out there and clean up three, four, five innings. The innings it saves the back end of the bullpen are valuable, especially down the stretch.”
Collmenter also ended up making seven additional starts, some in place of injured starters and some Tyler Skaggs was shut down for rest at the end of season. He was much better in those than he was early in the season, going 4-0 with a 2.84 ERA.
“The versatility I had last year really kind of carved a niche for me,” Collmenter said. “From talking to guys in the bullpen, there aren’t a lot of guys who can just start on a whim and be able to go five or six innings without really be lengthened out. So the fact that I can do that really helps out, because it provides almost a security blanket for if a guy for some reason can’t get loose or something crazy happens.”
Gibson has mentioned countless times how much he values the safety net Collmenter provides. Not many teams have a reliever so versatile, and the D-backs know it.
“He doesn’t complain about stuff; he just wants to be a good teammate and contribute,” Gibson said. “If he gets his opportunity to start, he’ll be ready.”
Collementer has made two starts this spring. In his first, he allowed one hit over two scoreless innings. In his second, on Sunday against the Giants, Collmenter gave up two runs on three hits in the D-backs’ 5-3 loss.
Players and teams put only so much stock in spring training results, and players typically take the time to work on things. For Collmenter, it’s been his curveball.
Collmenter told catcher Wil Nieves to make him throw his breaking ball in his first outing, and the results were apparently pretty good. Collementer said he’s getting much more comfortable with the pitch, which he only threw about five percent of the time last season.
“That’s probably about as good as I’ve seen his breaking ball,” Gibson said.
Should a starter struggle or get hurt this season, Collmenter would undoubtedly embrace the chance to start again. But for now, he’s happy doing it all out of the bullpen. He’s also happy leading the outing to the Renaissance Festival, where the beard he’s been growing since November may or may not have won a contest Saturday.
“There was a beard contest, and they measured it for overall look, volume and everything,” Collmenter said. “I think maybe a couple of the qualifications I might’ve won.”
ROSS STILL HURTING
Playing his former team, outfielder Cody Ross returned Sunday after two days out with calf tightness but left after three innings and said he was still feeling tight.
“I didn’t want to push it,” Ross said. “It’s just general tightness but nothing to panic over.”
Ross, who signed a three-year deal with the D-backs over the winter, said he might need a couple more days off to get the calf feeling right. Gibson, however, made the injury sound a little more serious.
“We’ll probably end up shutting him down for a while,” Gibson said. “We won’t mess around with it now. We don’t want him to go into the start of the season with it.”
Gibson hadn’t yet talked with the team’s medical staff about further tests or how long Ross might be shut down, but it seems reasonable he could be out all week.
A.J. Pollock, who has been limited by an abdomen strain, replaced Ross in the lineup, marking his first defensive action since being scratched Feb. 23.
Second baseman Aaron Hill was not in the lineup Sunday for the second straight day as he deals with quadriceps tightness. Gibson said the team is just playing it safe and the injury is something that wouldn’t keep Hill out of a game if it were the regular season.
While the D-backs playing for Team USA in the baseball classic don’t have to go anywhere with the team training at Salt River Fields, the other four players participating left Sunday morning to join their respective teams. Catcher Miguel Montero, outfielder Gerardo Parra and third baseman Martin Prado (all for Team Venezuela) and pitcher Nelson Figueroa (Team Puerto Rico) left camp for first-round play in San Juan, Puerto Rico.