Ziegler bests Montero to close out Cubs
PHOENIX -- A scar sits on Brad Ziegler's right shin from a duel against Miguel Montero four years ago. The quarter-inch mark may never go away.
"He owes me," Ziegler said.
Montero hit Ziegler with a one-hopper in the summer of 2011, about a month before the trade that brought Ziegler from Oakland to Arizona made them teammates. Ziegler on Sunday got a small measure of payback when he induced Montero to fly out to left field to end the Diamondbacks' 4-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Chase Field.
Montero had homered to left in the second inning, and with 38 homers in nine seasons with the D-backs he knows the park. Adding a degree of difficulty to the situation was that Montero had called Ziegler's games for the last three-plus seasons. Advantage, hitter.
"I think it hurts, because he knows my plan of attack," Ziegler said of facing a familiar foe. "He knows how my pitches move. I'm having to try to be creative out there. At some point, you just have to sit back and trust the pitches and hopefully execute them and trust your defense behind you."
Ziegler got ahead in the count 1-2 before missing with two change-ups. With Starlin Castro on first base, Montero lifted a fastball to left for a routine out and the D-backs won for the sixth time in seven games.
Montero disputed the strike call on a 1-1 fastball, believing it was low.
"I told him (umpire) to check the ball, because it bounced," Montero said with characteristic hyperbole.
Both sides had been getting the low strike all afternoon.
Ziegler said he decided against doing anything creative against Montero, but he was particularly careful.
"Not anything that I wouldn't necessarily normally do," Ziegler said. "It was just the idea that I have to execute this, I have to locate these a little better because he may be guessing right with me and sitting on whatever pitch is coming."
Ziegler's save was his second in four games after the D-backs moved Addison Reed out of the closer's role while he tweaks his delivery. The ninth-inning situation remains fluid, the D-backs having basically told the bullpen members to be ready at any time. Enrique Burgos also has two saves in the last week during the D-backs' best stretch of the season.
"I don't care," Ziegler said of when he is used. "I honestly don't approach it any differently. I'm just trying to go out and get three outs, and it doesn't matter if it's the seventh inning, the ninth inning, the 14th inning. The only difference is, if I knew I was closing, I would stretch later in the game. That's the only thing that would change."
The D-backs are walking a fine line with Ziegler, who had 13 saves in 2013 after taking over the job at the All-Star break. They trust Ziegler so much to get a ground ball that there are times when he is a better fit as a setup man earlier in the game, when a ground ball could turn into a rally-stopping double play. A save in a non-save situation, as it were.
"It is hard to say you are our closer and bring him in in the seventh inning or eighth inning to get a big double play," Hale said. "But we trust he can get it done when we need him. Burgos has done it. So there are some guys we trust."
Ziegler, who has a 0.86 ERA in 21 appearances, remains one.
"If that's what they want me to do, that's totally fine. I just want to help the team win," Ziegler said.
"This is a good stretch. It is a lot more fun coming to the ballpark that it was in Philly (where the D-backs lost three straight.) We just want to go out and keep pitching well."
Booed when he entered the game, Addison Reed needed only nine pitches in a 1-2-3 eighth inning to preserver a 4-3 lead.
1 -- career RBI by Jeremy Hellickson after his sacrifice fly in the second inning.
* Paul Goldschmidt is tied for second in the NL with 12 homers and moved up to third in RBI (38) with his single and no-doubt, Cubs-center-fielder-Dexter-Fowler-did-not-even-move two-run homer in the third. "Best player in the game," Jeremy Hellickson said. Hale said: "I've never seen a guy ... basically just a flick of his wrists (and) hit it that far." Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he wanted to pitch around Goldschmidt, who had a game-tying homer Friday, but just could not do it enough. "We were really tying to stay away from him but did not do a good job of it," Maddon said.
* Hellickson got 13 ground balls outs, keeping his fastball low in the strike zone and benefitting from a good curve on which he got two strikeouts. Hellickson won 50 games with Tampa Bay, when Maddon was there, but Maddon said he saw a different guy. "He is a fly-ball pitcher," Maddon said. "He put the ball on the ground more than anticipated." Hellickson won for the first time since April 19 when tying a season-high with 6 2-3 innings. He gave up four hits and struck out four. "The main thing was, my fastball was down," said Hellickson, who won 50 games in five seasons with Tampa Bay before being acquired in the offseason. Maddon saw a different Hellickson than the one he knew. Hellickson got 13 ground-ball outs. "He is a fly-ball pitcher," Maddon said. "He put the ball on the ground more than anticipated." On Saturday might, the D-backs discussed whether to a add a fresh arm to the bullpen after using 12 relievers in the previous two days. "We decided in the end that if Hellickson could give us five or six innings we'd be fine, and he sure did that," Hale said.
* Yasmany Tomas will take an eight-game hitting streak into a six-game road trip that starts in St. Louis on Monday after getting a day off Sunday. He had started eight straight. He is hitting .417 during his streak.
Shortstop Nick Ahmed started a double play from the hole in the sixth inning and made a sparking play over the bag in the seventh inning, continuing to add to his resume of superior defensive plays in his first season as a starter. "It's probably not fair, but we expect him to make all these great plays," Hale said. "It's just not that easy. We've all played … the stuff he does is just mind-boggling every day. That's why when he made a couple of errors in Miami, we didn't know what was going on. We had to get him checked by the doctors." Ahmed also extended his hitting streak to a career-high nine games with a triple.