The Diamondbacks Inside Pitch

Jose Valverde has been a bright spot in an otherwise black hole known as the Diamondbacks bullpen; Bob Melvin on the hot seat?; Robbie Hammock returns to action; and more from inside the D'Backs clubhouse.

   The Diamondbacks knew they might have to iron out some kinks with their bullpen as the season rolled along. They couldn't have perceived it would be this much of a wrinkled mess, however.
   As Arizona was closing out a seven-game homestand before beginning a three-game series at first-place San Diego, the club's bullpen ERA was hovering at 6.36. With more shaky outings, the Diamondbacks' relievers could be in line to end up with the worst ERA in baseball in more than 50 years.
   According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Diamondbacks are on pace to have the worst bullpen ERA since the 1950 St. Louis Browns, who carded a 6.62 ERA.
   On Friday, rookie right-hander Jason Bulger became the 20th reliever to make an appearance for the Diamondbacks this season, and just like everyone else, he had to deal with his share of failure.
   After recording two outs against the first two batters he faced in his major league debut against the Phillies, Bulger allowed four straight hits and left after giving up three runs.
   Bulger joined the team after Greg Aquino, who finished last season as Arizona's closer, was optioned to Triple-A Tucson following a series of bad outings. Aquino joins two other relievers who were recently demoted, Mike Koplove and Brian Bruney.
   "We knew coming in that we had some young guys down there and that we'd have to shuffle roles," manager Bob Melvin said. "And with Aquino being hurt, (Jose) Valverde starting out injured and Oscar (Villarreal) being injured, we had to mix and match, and it's been a work in progress."
   Valverde has been one of the few bright spots this season after he missed 25 games earlier in the year with biceps tendonitis in his right arm. He has emerged as the club's latest closer, assuming the role in place of Bruney and Brandon Lyon, who was on a roll early in the year but landed on the disabled list with elbow problems and hasn't been the same since being activated.
   The Diamondbacks thought Aquino, who had 16 saves last season as a rookie, was on track to be a reliable, late-inning arm. But once he returned after missing 62 games from ulna nerve irritation in his right elbow, he lost his confidence after several up-and-down performances.
   "He needs to go down and pitch a little bit without the pressure of coming into a big-league game and always having to have results," Melvin said. "But this is a talented guy who's going to pitch for the Diamondbacks for a long time in my opinion."

NOTES, QUOTES
   --Arizona lost its sixth straight game on Friday, an 11-3 defeat to visiting Philadelphia, and now has been outscored 63-16 during its season-high losing skid.
   "I know it's getting old," left fielder Luis Gonzalez said. "It's getting old for the players, for the fans, everybody. There's really not many answers we can give you guys. We just have to go out there and play."
   Gonzalez, angered and concerned by what he said was uninformed criticism of the club for the past week, asked for and received time on the team's flagship radio station, KTAR-620AM, following Friday's loss to try to quell the firestorm.
   --CF Shawn Green was with his wife in Newport Beach, Calif., during the weekend for the birth of the couple's second child, daughter Chandler Rose. He was back in the lineup Sunday.
   --RHP Russ Ortiz is slated to start Monday's series opener in San Diego against the Padres despite three rough outings since returning from the disabled list. Manager Bob Melvin said Ortiz, 4-8 with a 6.95 ERA, has been working on some timing issues with his delivery on the side and hopes the extra work will get the veteran back on track. If he continues to struggle, however, don't be surprised if Arizona contemplates moving him to a spot in the bullpen when LHP Shawn Estes is activated following a series of quick rehab starts, which begin for him on Monday with Triple-A Tucson.
   --RHP Greg Aquino, whose ERA had climbed to 9.12, was optioned to Triple-A Tucson and the Diamondbacks recalled right-handed reliever Jason Bulger. Aquino was Arizona's closer during the second half of last season, where he notched 16 saves as a rookie. Bulger was 3-6 with four saves and a 3.54 ERA in 56 appearances with Tucson.
   --With RHPs Mike Koplove, Brian Bruney and Aquino each being sent to Triple-A Tucson in a series of recent moves, rookie RHP Brandon Medders flourished since his latest call-up. Medders had a 1.69 ERA in 13 games and a recent stretch of 11 2/3 scoreless innings, moving into more of a late-inning role with the club.
   "He's warranted it," manager Bob Melvin said. "He's done pretty well.
"We have not been afraid to shuffle the bullpen around at times to do what we think is the best at that particular time. I think his confidence keeps growing every time he goes out there and has some success."
   --RHP Javier Vazquez (10-13, 4.59 ERA) has been bothered by a sore right knee recently, which has affected mostly just his running ability and not his performance on the mound, according to manager Bob Melvin.
   "He doesn't want anybody to know about it. He just wants to go out there and do his thing," Melvin said. "It hasn't limited him out there on the mound."
   --Bulger made his major-league debut and recorded two quick outs before allowing four hits and being charged with three runs.
   --The Diamondbacks held a 90-minute, players-only meeting before Wednesday's game against the Mets and then lost 18-4, a day after losing 14-1 to New York. Asked about the mood in the clubhouse prior to Thursday's game against the Mets, manager Bob Melvin said, "It's not a really happy one right now. When you get beat up like we have for three games in a row, especially in the fashion we have the past two nights, it's not a good feeling."
   --A day after Ken Kendrick, the Diamondbacks' managing general partner, made some comments somewhat critical of manager Bob Melvin, the two spoke by phone. Kendrick called Melvin on Thursday and the manager said it was "a nice discussion." Asked if he was privately given a vote of confidence, Melvin said, "I've never had it the other way. He's frustrated with the way things have gone. The players obviously are. ... Nobody's happy with the way things are going."
   --The Diamondbacks' team ERA through the first 21 games in August was 7.16, compared to 3.93 during the month of July.
   --C Robby Hammock, who caught Randy Johnson's perfect game last May 18 in Atlanta, was cleared to play by Triple-A Tucson after missing all of spring training and most of this season following surgery to repair a torn labrum in February. Hammock was signed to a minor-league contract in the spring.
   --RF Shawn Green hit his 300th career home run Wednesday during Arizona's 18-4 loss to the visiting New York Mets.
   --3B Troy Glaus on the Diamondbacks' struggles to try to make a run at things in the National League West: "If we're going to win this division, we've got to keep hitting and we've got to get people out. We just need to be consistent. It doesn't do any good to just do it once in a while. It has to be a sustained thing."
   --C Chris Snyder lost much of his regular starting duties behind the plate to veteran Kelly Stinnett, in part because Snyder continues to struggle offensively. Part of the problem, however, might be that Snyder made the jump straight from Double-A to the majors half a season ago, not to mention the fact Snyder may not used to taking the constant beating behind the plate.
   "Hey, that's life in the big leagues," said manager Bob Melvin, a former big-league catcher, said. "If you're an everyday catcher, by the end of April you're not going to be 100 percent for the rest of the year. That's just the way it is. From the beating your hands taken with the foul tips, the forearm area, the knees, the shoulders. You know you're going to be the playing with pain for a good portion of the year."
   BY THE NUMBERS: 47 -- Total runs the Diamondbacks were outscored by during their season-long, six-game slide. Opponents scored 63 runs to Arizona's 16. 0-7 -- Phillies RHP Jon Lieber's career record against the Diamondbacks, which also includes an 8.56 ERA.
   QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's kind of a stupid rule. I tried to sell it and say I didn't go. But obviously, I did. I know I did. It's like telling a cop when you get a speeding ticket that you didn't go over the speed limit, and he's got you on radar." -- OF Luis Gonzalez on getting tagged out at first base after showing intent that he might try to advance to second after an infield hit.
 

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