Just late last season, Kirk Gibson had no idea who he was going to turn to in the late innings when his ballclub had a lead. A little more than a month into the 2011 campaign, that now seems like ancient history.
J.J. Putz and David Hernandez, the two big offseason acquisitions for a unit that was historically bad last season, have exceeded expectations during the month of April and the first couple of days of May. Hernandez has settled in nicely setting up the D’Backs closer in the eighth inning with very limited experience in his time in Baltimore. Putz has picked up right where he left off when he was closing out games when he was in Seattle.
Aside from back-to-back poor outings in late April, where he allowed three runs, Hernandez has nearly been unhittable. The right-hander has an ERA under two at 1.88, well below his career average. He had a bit of problem with the walk bug early on in the season, but he has had only two walks in his last seven appearances. That is a nice adjustment for the youngster.
Putz hasn’t been as good as Hernandez has been, but he still has done an excellent job in the ninth inning role. Some were concerned going into the season with Putz’s struggles and injury concerns during spring training, but he has quelled those concerns quickly. Putz has been perfect converting seven of seven save chances and three of his four runs that he has allowed have come in non-save situations.
Esmerling Vasquez, who has seen the majority of his time coming in before Hernandez, has pitched solid as well with an ERA under three. One of the main reasons for his success has been throwing strikes. The righty had 38 walks in 53 1/3 innings last season. He has only one in 9 2/3 innings this season. Lefty specialist Joe Paterson has yet to given up a run in 11 games seeing time in the seventh as well.
Many felt that the Diamondbacks bullpen was going to be improved this season, of course it couldn’t get much worse than it was last season. However, no one could have expected it to be this good this quickly. Aside from Juan Gutierrez, every guy out of the pen has pitched really well.
Now, it is a bit soon to call Arizona’s bullpen the best in the game, but it is slowing making strides to getting there. The great work by both Putz and Hernandez in the later innings as well as Vasquez and Paterson before them are the major reasons for the unit’s quick turnaround.