D-Backs looking for answers to relief problems

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General manager Mike Hazen looked at his club at the end of the season and recognized an odd juxtaposition: The Diamondbacks had managed to move three starting pitchers to the majors by the end of the year, who not only showed promise, but have done so against some league players. better queues.

And yet the Diamondbacks had one glaring weakness: They couldn’t, Hazen said, find a reliever who could get them three out in the seventh inning.

“What are we missing here? Hazen asked rhetorically during his year-end media session at Chase Field last week. “We do the hardest part, in many cases.”

Once again, the Diamondbacks are entering an offseason with their bullpen in desperate need of help. In 42 games this year, the Diamondbacks were tied or ahead going into the sixth inning and ended up losing. Their bullpen ranked 27th in ERA majors, 28th in fastball speed, 30th in strikeouts and tied for 26th in save percentage.

The veteran relievers the Diamondbacks brought in last winter — namely Mark Melancon and Ian Kennedy — failed to provide the stability the club expected. As a result, Hazen will be forced to rebuild his bullpen once again, again entering the offseason with relatively few pitchers even a head start on the relief role for next year.

Hazen thinks he’ll have to look to the trade market for help this winter, perhaps doing so more aggressively than in the past. In his previous six offseasons, Hazen acquired a late-inning reliever by trade only once, when he landed right-hander Brad Boxberger after the 2017 season.

Hazen said there’s a good reason for that: cost. He said many of the positional player prospects who made it to the majors this season — the players the organization seems likely to build around — were often those requested via trade when discussing relief aid. at the end of the round.

But with that young core starting to put down roots, Hazen seemed more willing to move other prospects behind them.

“Now that we’re developing some of that talent to the higher levels, moving into our major league team, we’re going to have to look at the trade market probably a little more aggressively in those areas as well,” Hazen said. “That’s another avenue that we will have to explore.”

That said, going out and finding help isn’t Hazen’s preferred way of doing business. He would much rather have a pipeline of young arms he can call upon within the organization.

“I don’t think we’ve done a very good job since I’ve been here, frankly,” Hazen said. “That’s probably a glaring area for me and something we talked about a lot with the coaches, something we talked about a lot with the development guys, something we talked about a lot with our scouts.”

Hazen said he doubted the Diamondbacks would go into drafts targeting relievers with high picks; he said the club would likely continue to try to attract starting pitchers to those areas. Plus, most of baseball’s best relievers are converted starters anyway.

But he sees opportunities for the Diamondbacks to be more aggressive to find help in the bullpen in other ways.

“Minor league free agency, waiver requests, guys who aren’t out to tender – there are myriad ways to acquire talent and then develop it to make sure it translates into our enclosure,” Hazen said. “We haven’t, overall, done a good enough job in this area.”

Last year, Diamondbacks pitchers threw just 77 pitches at 98 mph or more, second-fewest in the majors. New York Yankees pitchers have hit 98 mph or more 1,860 times, the most in the majors. It’s a trend that goes back nearly a decade. The Diamondbacks have the fewest pitches in this range (476) since the start of 2015, 20 times less than the league-leading Yankees (9,502).

The arrival of Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson – two of the young starters promoted by the Diamondbacks in September – gives the club more power potential from its pitching staff than it had in previous years. But, for now, the bullpen doesn’t have the kind of power commonly seen in the game.

That might help explain the Diamondbacks’ bullpen struggles in recent years. Hazen noted that just because a reliever takes a loss doesn’t mean they’re entirely responsible. With the Diamondbacks this season, there were often defensive errors or an offense’s inability to tack on runs. But when it comes to how many winnable games his team has this year, Hazen wants to see fewer get away with it.

“You’re not going to win every one of these games,” Hazen said. “Each team kicks off bullpen games. …

It extends through — it’s my responsibility; that’s my problem to solve – but it extends to a number of our departments, and we’ve had these conversations and that’s something we’ll have to improve, frankly.

Contact Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.

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