D-backs’ bullpen faces the loss of closer Putz
LOS ANGELES — The Diamondbacks ran into another obstacle Tuesday, discovering that even when they convert a save situation, the news can be distressing.
Heath Bell got the final three outs after Paul Goldschmidt’s big home run in the Diamondbacks’ 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday, but the D-backs appear to have lost closer J.J. Putz in the process, at least for a short time. Bell got his second save, and he is perhaps the top candidate to remain in that role in the interim.
Putz entered to protect the lead in the ninth inning, but he felt discomfort in his right elbow and shooting pains down to his fingers after his second pitch to leadoff man Nick Punto. After four consecutive balls, he was forced to leave.
“Just felt stiff in my elbow and zings down my fingers, and I knew something wasn’t right,” Putz said.
Trainer Ken Crenshaw went to the mound after Punto walked, and he and Putz left the field shortly thereafter. Putz had preliminary tests done afterward and is to go undergo further tests today.
“It happened on the second pitch,” Putz said. “I didn’t know what that was. After it happened two more times, I figured probably should say something. I’ve never felt anything like it before.
“The hardest thing is not knowing what it is. We are going to go see the doctor tomorrow and figure out what it is.”
Putz’s injury cast a pall on the D-backs’ ninth victory in their last at-bat this season, the result of Goldschmidt’s sixth home run of the year. It came on the 11th pitch he saw from Dodgers closer Brandon League. Goldschmidt fell behind in the count 1-2, took two balls, then fouled off five fastballs before hitting the sixth out of the park
Putz has had his ups and downs this season, converting five of nine save opportunities in a bullpen that has a major league-high 10 failed save conversions. The D-backs had hoped rest would help Putz recover from a rough stretch, and he had not pitched since failing to hold a 1-0 lead in a 2-1 loss to San Francisco on April 30. Manager Kirk Gibson said Friday in San Diego that he believed he overworked Putz during a recent stretch of 16 games in 16 days, and he planned to monitor Putz’s workload.
Now, it appears Putz will be down for at least the short term. He was subdued when he spoke to reporters after the game. Putz missed the final four months of the 2009 season with bone spurs in his right elbow, undergoing surgery on June 9 after appearing in 29 games with the New York Mets. It is not known if his current injury is similar.
Putz, who has had 77 saves the last two seasons with the D-backs, has not appeared to be himself this season. The walk to Punto was his eighth in 12 1/3 innings. He walked 11 in 54 1/3 innings last year and 12 in 58 innings in 2011. Gibson said he was not aware of any injury issues to Putz before Tuesday.
“First time,” Gibson said. “The first I knew of it was ball four. We looked at it, and we knew something was going on.”
Bell appears to be the logical candidate to take over in same situations in the near future, given his recent form. He has two saves and a 4.73 ERA, but he has been scored upon only twice in his last 11 appearances. Bell had 42, 47 and 43 seasons with San Diego from 2009-11 before a 19-save season with Miami last year, a bad fit.
“He’s done a great job,” Gibson said.
David Hernandez, 2-2 with a 4.02 ERA, would be another candidate to close. He is 0 for 3 in save chances but got the win Tuesday, pitching out of trouble after Matt Kemp hit a leadoff double in the eighth.
Bell, who was the designated closer last Wednesday when Putz was give a day off, warmed up with Putz in the ninth inning and would have entered had the game been tied entering the last of the ninth. Instead, Putz came in after Goldschmidt’s home run.
Bell had a rough outing early but said he has felt his mechanics have been in place since about the second week of the season. He has 18 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings.
“I feel like I’m back to my old self,” Bell said. “I feel like I was back at the middle, the end of April. Sliding right into a save opportunity. I’ve done it for four years. It’s like getting on a bicycle or getting behind the wheel of the car, something like that.”
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