After two really poor outings earlier this week against the Cleveland Indians, it was evident that there was something wrong with J.J. Putz.
The Diamondbacks fears were learned on Friday morning when it was revealed by team doctors that Arizona’s closer has tendinitis in his right elbow. There is nothing structurally wrong with the elbow, but the injury will keep Putz out until at least after the All-Star game.
Putz’s injury means that David Hernandez will be the D’Backs new ninth inning guy. The young right-hander has very limited experience closing out games. Last season in Baltimore, he converted only two of six save chances. Hernandez is 2-for-4 so far this season.
Hernandez taking over closing duties comes at a difficult time for him. The 250-pounder has not much pitched well in his last two outings, allowing three runs and four hits last Sunday in Detroit while not getting a single out and then gave up a run the other night against Cleveland.
Things could get very shaky in the ninth inning for Arizona, but there is no reason why Hernandez shouldn’t succeed in the role. He has the stuff to be a dominant closer, but it takes more than just stuff to do one of the most difficult jobs in all of baseball. It takes a good head on your shoulders as well.
Kirk Gibson has yet to announce who will take over Hernandez’s eighth inning role. If I had to take a guess, it would probably be by committee unless someone suddenly pitches well. In games where Hernandez has closed out over the last week or so, Aaron Heilman has been Gibson’s eighth inning man, but he hasn’t exactly pitched well in that role despite having some experience.
That should come as no surprise to fans who have watched this ballclub closely over the last two seasons.
Gibby could decide to go with Yhency Brazoban for eighth inning duties as well. The right-hander allowed his first run in nearly three seasons at the Major League level earlier this week against the Indians. Like Heilman, Brazoban does have some experience in the role. He was the setup man to Eric Gagne back in 2004 and then closed out 21 games the following season.
Micah Owings and Sam Demel, who came off the disabled list when Putz was put on it, are two other options for the Diamondbacks skipper. However, Owings has struggled the past week or so, and giving the eighth inning role to Demel would be asking a lot for a guy who is just coming off of an injury. Both would be longshots.
Whatever the roles Gibson decides on, it could very well be a struggle for Arizona to close out games in the later innings until Putz gets back to 100 percent health. Putz’s injury is going to put pressure on the starting rotation to go deeper into games as well as the offense to score more runs to pad leads.
If Kevin Towers were ever to make a deal for another bullpen arm, now certainly would be the time.