Diamondbacks Spring Training to Determine Closer Role
By Josh Burke
The Diamondbacks boast a number of competent right-handed pitchers standing ready to save a win for the team when called upon. With a stable of firemen on-call to protect the lead of a winnable game, Arizona is confident they have put together the right pieces to solve their bullpen puzzle.
Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano, and Brad Boxberger form a pretty high-end trio of closers for Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo to mix and match in game-saving scenarios. Albeit each not without risk.
To fill a void created by departing closer Fernando Rodney, the D-backs acquired two right-handed pitchers with closing experience in Hirano and Boxberger. However, it’s most likely that Arizona’s best option to take on the closer role was on their roster all along.
Archie Bradley is on the verge of stepping into his destiny as one of the game’s premiere finishers. He should probably be handed the keys to Closer Kingdom right now, except for the fact that his manager refuses to anoint him Save Savior just yet.
So far in his young career, Archie Bradley has only seven save opportunities, all occurring last season. He went 0-2 with just one save in those seven appearances, but really only pitched poorly in the two losses. Bradley has all the tools to take over the closer’s job, but lacks experience in the role.
"“For me, it’s wide open,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said."
We won’t know what pitcher or combination of pitchers Lovullo will rely on until it happens in a regular season game twice or three times in a row. At this point all we know for certain is that we will find out at some point this year. Bradley is absolutely ready to be the guy who slams the door shut with a lead at the end of close games, it’s just a matter of when?.
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As for Hirano, he made his debut on the Japanese professional baseball scene in 2006. Back then, he was a workhorse starting pitcher laboring through ten complete games in his rookie year alone (four of them shutouts). He racked up almost 250 innings pitched by the end of his third year in the pros.
Coming to MLB as a free agent from Japan, Hirano arrives with 156 total saves on his resume and more experience already than a lot of pitchers retire with. After 11 seasons in the Japan Pacific League, dude’s arm has some miles on it. In total, Hirano has accrued 974⅔ innings of just regular season game use alone.
Still, for the past five years, Hirano’s been putting up impressive numbers as the primary closer for the Orix Buffaloes. Since 2013, Yoshihisa Hirano has converted a little less than 29 saves per season. And he’s not done, yet.
"“Hirano’s stuff for me was the best that we’ve seen,” Lovullo said."
Another right-handed pitcher with closing experience that will be joining Hirano and Bradley in the Diamondbacks closer triumvirate is Brad Boxberger. In 2015 Boxberger had an All-Star year as the Tampa Bay Rays’ closer totaling 41 saves.
However, Boxberger’s recent injury history clouds his future dependability. A slew of ailments from core muscle surgery to an oblique strain to a lat strain have kept him to just 53⅔ innings pitched over the past two seasons.
Even though the Diamondbacks appear just as reliant on Boxberger as they did when they initially traded for him, he’s more likely a high-upside gamble than a key piece. Any contribution he can provide will be welcomed. If he is hurt or ineffective, though, the D-backs can shrug it off. If he returns to his previous form of 2015, that’d be gravy on Arizona’s biscuits.
Archie Bradley is being groomed as the closer of the future, but his handlers are being cautious with his usage in save situations. Brad Boxberger’s workload is already being limited this spring amid talk of arm soreness. Yoshihisa Hirano is under contract for this season and next and is earning a base of $3 million each year with more possible through incentives in his deal.
Because of Bradley’s lack of closing experience and Boxberger’s health questions, I believe that Hirano will open the season as D-backs closer.
Next: AZ Prospect Perez Catching On
The Diamondbacks are depending on their trio of experienced back-end bullpen pitchers to lock down late-inning wins. Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano, and Brad Boxberger provide Arizona with solid options to finish, but the patient D-backs will use Spring Training to determine who will be manning the closer role for them when the season starts.