SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It’s fairly rare to see a major league bullpen without a left-handed reliever. It might be even more uncommon to see one with two lefties.
The Diamondbacks appear ready to do just that this season after acquiring Craig Breslow from Oakland in the offseason to go with second-year reliever Joe Paterson.
Having two lefties in the ‘pen is undoubtedly a luxury in baseball today. Most teams typically keep one around, and in some cases that lefty is used strictly as a specialist. But whether carrying two left-handers will give the D-backs a distinct advantage is a matter of debate.
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“It’s the kind of thing that can be overprioritized or overemphasized,” Breslow said. “I understand matchups are part of the game, but kind of pigeonholing a guy to only be able to get lefties out or only be able to get righties out can be dangerous.
“From what I’ve seen of some of the guys in the ‘pen that we’ll break camp with, they have the ability to get lefties and righties out and have the ability to pitch early or late in games.”
The left-handed duo does eliminate the concern about using a lefty early in a game and being without one in a key pinch-hit situation later, which makes strategic moves more difficult for opposing managers.
The caveat is that Breslow and Paterson offer markedly different pitching styles. Paterson is more the left-handed specialist, having faced only one hitter in 22 of his 62 appearances last season, while Breslow is more likely to pitch more than an inning.
“He’s kind of the prototypical left-handed specialist when you think about it,” Breslow said. “Low arm slot, big, sweeping breaking ball that I’m sure gives left-handed hitters nightmares. I’m kind of more traditional in that I probably have almost long-reliever, starter kind of stuff.”
Breslow also claims to be a “right-handed left-hander” because he doesn’t consider himself more effective against hitters on either side of the plate. Though he held right-handed hitters to a .261 batting average last season while lefties hit .352, his career splits are nearly identical, with left-handers hitting .227 and righties .224.
Paterson’s submarine delivery also differentiates the pair of pitchers, adding another dimension to his left-handed advantage.
“It’s just a completely different look,” Paterson said. “That’s kind of always been my thing, bringing a different look.”
Paterson isn’t assuming he’s made the team yet, so he’s made it his mission to show the D-backs why they need two left-handed relievers. The situation is much different from last season, though, when Paterson, as a Rule 5 draft pick, had to pitch well enough to make the Opening Day roster or be sent back to the Giants.
“I had to make the team or I was going back to a team that had the best lefty specialist in the game at the time (Javier Lopez),” Paterson said. “I felt a lot of pressure then. That’s what you want. You want that pressure.”
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson isn’t quite ready to discuss his 25-man roster, but he did suggest that Breslow might be stretched out a bit this spring to fill a long-relief role.
“We’re going to watch how those guys throw,” Gibson said. “I don’t know whether we’ll have one (left-hander) or whether we’ll have two or three. I really don’t know.”
The luxury of keeping two lefties in the bullpen might simply be a product of both being among the team’s seven best relievers. The D-backs’ rotation depth could also be a factor, particularly with Gibson’s preference to let starters go deep into games.
But can a bullpen with two left-handers have its drawbacks? It seems that it could depending on the situation, but Breslow doesn’t see any.
“Not to sound contentious, but one less right-hander in the bullpen — so what?” Breslow asked. “I’m of the belief that you take your seven best pitchers. If it’s seven righties, it’s seven righties. If it’s seven lefties, it’s seven lefties.
“I think anyone would argue the most effective reliever is one who can get a lefty and a righty out and you don’t have to play the matchups as meticulously, but it’s certainly an advantage knowing whatever specialties you have that you have more than one of them.”