5/1/2013 10:15 P.M. ET
Close games forcing heavy workload on relievers
By Tyler Emerick / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Using J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler's recent performances in losses as examples, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said Wednesday he'll aim to stay away from certain relievers when the coaching staff determines they need a break.
"What I'm trying to do is to get these guys freshened up a little bit," he said. "We haven't been able to manage the bullpen like we'd like to. When you're in a tight game, you continually have to matchup and guys are getting up more often."
Of the club's first 27 games this season, 20 have been decided by two or fewer runs, meaning the bullpen hasn't been able to relax much. The results haven't been pretty as the D-backs have blown nine saves this season, the most of any team in baseball.
Putz, who the club still backs as its closer, has been at the center of the bullpen's woes, with the veteran blowing four saves this season, including Tuesday night when he served up a two-run shot to the Giants' Pablo Sandoval in the ninth inning.
"With J.J., if you look at the last 11 games, he's been up or in a game eight out of 11 times," Gibson said. "That's a lot and J.J. isn't a spring chicken."
On Saturday, when Putz converted a save opportunity against the Rockies, the right-hander's fastball ranged between 92-94 mph. But on Tuesday, his velocity dropped a bit, with his heater registering as low as 89 mph.
As for Ziegler, the 33-year-old hadn't allowed a run in his previous six outings before giving up runs in his last two appearances, including Monday when he walked two batters with two outs, then surrendered the game-winning hit to Brandon Belt.
Gibson admitted he needs to be more alert to those types of trends and use relievers accordingly.
"That kind of tells you something," Gibson said. "That maybe we need to give them more time."
Another reason Gibson gave for the bullpen's struggles in close games was the team's schedule to date. The D-backs have yet to face a team with a sub-.500 record this season and they haven't had an off-day since April 15.
"What you have to do here is keep things in perspective," Gibson said. "You go in Spring Training and you can have [relievers] on any schedule you want. Then you go into the regular season and early on you have off-days. Then we go on a run of 16 games in a row, and that's really the first time the pitching staff is in a regular season. You put it all together and it's tough."
While Gibson wouldn't reveal whether Putz would be available to pitch in Wednesday's series finale against the Giants, the manager said he wouldn't hesitate to use anybody in the bullpen in a save situation if the game calls for it.
"We'll go to anybody," he said. "We've closed with [Matt] Reynolds two days in San Francisco. Obviously David [Hernandez] has experience and Heath [Bell] does too. I'd close with [Josh] Collmenter too. All our guys are capable."
Pennington solid in multiple double-play combos
PHOENIX -- With injuries forcing the club to move its players around the diamond, D-backs shortstop Cliff Pennington had four double-play partners in April: Aaron Hill, Martin Prado, Josh Wilson and Didi Gregorius.
But if you ask 28-year-old, Pennington will say it hasn't been much of a challenge adjusting to a new middle-infield cohort on a regular basis.
"You would think it probably would be hard but they are all pretty similar and they are all pretty good," Pennington said. "It's been pretty easy. Turning double plays is the hardest part, but they all like the ball in a similar spot. It's been fine."
Fine, indeed. Through the end of the first month of the season, Pennington is tied for first in the National League in double plays turned with 21. He has also only committed two errors in 21 games at shortstop and none in four games playing second base.
That steady glove work has been key for the D-backs, given that 20 of the club's 27 games have been decided by two runs or less.
"Defense stands out even more when you're playing close games, it matters a lot," Pennington said. "When you can save a run, it's like an RBI for your team. We take a lot of pride in that and we're doing a good job."
Wilson enjoys playing time after uncertain spring
PHOENIX -- When journeyman Josh Wilson accepted a non-roster invitation to D-backs camp this spring, he knew the odds of making the team on Opening Day were stacked against him.
But that didn't sway the 32-year-old; he just wanted to return to the D-backs organization after playing in Arizona in 2009 and 2011. Now a month into the season, that faith has paid off for Wilson, who already has appeared in 14 games for Arizona after not reaching the Majors in 2012.
"This is where I wanted to be, this is the best organization I've ever been in," said Wilson, who has reached the Majors with seven teams over six seasons. "That's the reason I wanted to come back, whether or not I had an opportunity to make the team in Spring Training, I wanted to be here. I wanted to come because I knew the type of organization they ran."
Injuries to Willie Bloomquist and Aaron Hill have opened up playing time for Wilson, who has a .290 on-base percentage this season. He also has been a consistent piece on the infield for the D-backs, committing just one error in 42 chances at second, third and shortstop.
"He has added a huge contribution to us in the games he has played," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's been very good when we've inserted him in."
Not focusing on the uncertainty ahead when the injured players return, Wilson just hopes he continues to seize the opportunity before him, no matter how long it lasts.
"This is a special group of guys, it's a pleasure to come here every day," he said. "Obviously playing here is the goal, but being able to play anywhere makes the hard work worth it."
• Recovering from a mild concussion after being hit in the helmet with a pitch on Saturday, D-backs shortstop Didi Gregorius likely will play in extended spring games in Scottsdale on Thursday and Friday. The hope is Gregorius will join the team in San Diego on Saturday, when he is eligible to come off the seven-day concussion disabled list.
The D-backs will have Gregorius take an impact test again, then turn in that information to Major League Baseball so he can be cleared to play. The rookie already has passed the written portion of the concussion protocol test.
• The D-backs promoted right-hander Archie Bradley to Double-A Mobile on Wednesday. Ranked by MLB.com as the club's No. 2 prospect and the No. 24 prospect in all of baseball, Bradley made five starts for Class A Advanced Visalia this season, striking out 43 and allowing just four earned runs over 28 2/3 innings for a 1.26 ERA.
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.