Diamondbacks Bullpen Suddenly Deep

Diamondbacks Bullpen Suddenly Deep

The Arizona Diamondbacks endured the worst bullpen in baseball during a disastrous 2010 season. New general manager Kevin Towers made improving that bullpen his top offseason priority, and the D-backs at least have several intriguing options to scout during spring training.

When Kevin Towers joined the Diamondbacks, he vowed to remake the bullpen with big, strong strike-throwers. In his first major trade, Towers kept his promise, acquiring right-handers David Hernandez and Kameron Mickolio from Baltimore for third baseman Mark Reynolds on the first day of the winter meetings.

Hernandez, 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, came up as a starter in the Orioles' organization but seemed to blossom after moving to the bullpen two months into the season. Hernandez, who features a 96-97 mph fastball, was 8-8 with a 4.31 ERA in 41 appearances overall, but those numbers dipped dramatically when he pitched in relief. He was 7-3, 3.16 out of the bullpen, striking out 45 while walking only 13 in 37 innings, and he will enter spring training expected to be slotted into a seventh- or eighth-inning role.

Mickolio, 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, throws a mid-90s fastball and was especially impressive in his final stop of the 2010 season, when he struck out 18 in 12 innings of relief for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League. The D-backs got a good look at Mickolio because their Fall League players also were on the Scottsdale roster.

"Size, arm strength, downward angle," Towers said in scout speak, summing up Mickolio's strengths. "You can't get more downward than a 6-9 pitcher. A lot of people ask how could you move 30-plus home runs, 40-plus home runs (from Reynolds) a few years ago. ... For us to take the leaps forward that we felt we needed to do, to strengthen the 'pen, we felt this was a tremendous start."

Mickolio is expected to compete for a role in a suddenly jammed bullpen, which also includes new closer J.J. Putz, another big, strong strike-thrower who was signed to close. Holdovers Juan Gutierrez and Sam Demel are frontrunners to join Putz and Hernandez in the D-backs' seven-man bullpen in 2011, but there are plenty of other contenders with Mickolio: Mike Hampton, Jordan Norberto, Micah Owings, Joe Paterson, Esmerling Vasquez, and possibly Aaron Heilman, who was signed with the understanding that he would be given a shot at the starting rotation.

Last season, the D-backs had 24 blown saves and a 5.74 bullpen ERA, the sixth worst in the majors since 1953.

SNAKE BYTES

--2B Kelly Johnson, seeking $6.5 million in his final year of arbitration, could become the third player to go to a hearing in the Diamondbacks' 13-year history. The D-backs submitted a figure of $4.7 million, which is twice his 2010 salary, $2.35 million. The D-backs have split their only two previous arbitration cases, losing to C Damian Miller (2001) and beating C Jorge Fabregas (1998). After winning the Fabregas case, then managing general partner Jerry Colangelo offered Fabregas a two-year, $2.9 million deal with a significant raise over the first-year arbitration figure.

--RHP Kyler Newby, a former 50th-round draft pick out of Mesa (Ariz.) College, went 4-2 with a 1.55 ERA for Ponce of the Puerto Rican winter league, leading the league in ERA while compiling a streak of 24 1/3 scoreless innings. Newby did not allow a home run in 46 1/3 innings while striking out 45. "He's not afraid to challenge hitters," D-backs farm director Mike Bell said. It was an extension of Newby's 2010 regular season at Class AA Mobile, where he went 4-3 with a 3.45 ERA, spending the second half of the season in the rotation after RHP Barry Enright was promoted to parent D-backs on June 30.

--2001 World Series hero Luis Gonzalez will serve as the D-backs' ambassador for the 2011 All-Star Game, scheduled for July 12 at Chase Field, the site of his game-winning single with one out in the ninth inning for a 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees in Game 7. Gonzalez, named a special assistant to president/CEO Derrick Hall last year, made five All-Star teams. He won the 2001 home run derby in Seattle, with D-backs bullpen coach Jeff Motuzas pitching for him.

--New general manager Kevin Towers went to arbitration hearings twice in his 14 seasons as San Diego's general and lost both cases, to RHP Joey Hamilton in 1998 and 2B Todd Walker in 2007. Hamilton was awarded $3.3 million instead of the $2.375 million number filed by the Padres. Walker, advised by his CPA brother, was awarded $3.95 million. The Padres filed at $2.7 million.

--RHP Curt Schilling, the co-MVP of the 2001 World Series with LHP Randy Johnson, is to be inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in March. Schilling, who was 58-28 with a 3.14 ERA in 3 1/2 seasons with the D-backs, was raised in Phoenix and attended Shadow Mountain High before enrolling at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. He was acquired from Philadelphia in mid-2000 and had 22- and 23-win seasons with the D-backs before being traded to Boston and helping the Red Sox to the 2004 World Series title.

DIAMOND STAT: 1-1 -- D-backs' record in arbitration cases in their 13-year history.

QUOTABLE: "It's going to be very competitive ... which is something we are trying to create here, an atmosphere where you have to earn and win jobs come spring training." -- General manager Kevin Towers, on acquiring depth


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