Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo talks about Taijuan Walker’s return from the DL and Randall Delgado’s relief performance in a win over the Tigers.
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Diamondbacks right-hander Taijuan Walker gave up just one run in five innings in his first start back from the disabled list after missing nearly a month with a blister.
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Outfielder David Peralta discusses his go-ahead home run in the Diamondbacks’ wild 7-6 win over the Detroit Tigers. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Torey Lovullo talks about the Diamondbacks’ back-and-forth game against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks starter Robbie Ray speaks with the media following his team’s 11-1 win over the Brewers on Sunday. Richard Morin/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt speaks with reporters after a 11-1 win over the Brewers on Sunday.
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Diamondbacks starter Zack Godley discusses his performance in Arizona’s 3-2 win on Saturday at Chase Field. Scott Bordow/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo discusses his team’s win over the Brewers on Saturday at home. Scott Bordow/azcentral sports
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Diamondbacks starter Randall Delgado reacts to Friday’s loss to the Brewers.
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Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo discusses Friday’s 8-6 loss to the Brewers
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Diamondbacks catcher Chris Iannetta, batting in the No. 2 hole for the first time this season, homered and doubled twice, driving in seven runs in a win over the Padres, June 8, 2017. Nick Piecoro/azcentral sports
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Torey Lovullo on D-Backs’ latest one-run win
Taijuan Walker on his first outing back from the disabled list
David Peralta on his go-ahead homer in win over Tigers
Torey Lovullo after D-Backs’ win over Tigers
Robbie Ray on D-Backs’ win over Brewers
Paul Goldschmidt on grand slam, offensive outburst
Godley on taking advantage of opportunity after D-Backs win
Torey Lovullo after D-Backs’ win over Brewers
Randall Delgado on his rough outing against Brewers
Lovullo on Diamondbacks’ loss to Brewers
Chris Iannetta on his career-high 7 RBIs vs. Padres
Archie Bradley has everything you want in a late-innings relief pitcher. Since transitioning to the bullpen to begin the season, the right-hander has flashed a powerful 98 mph fastball and displayed command of a deceptive curveball.
Beyond that, the bearded 6-foot-5-inch Oklahoman is an imposing figure on the mound. And the way Bradley is throwing right now, having posted a minuscule 1.21 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings, he’s quickly become one of the more feared relievers in the National League.
“He’s been exciting to watch,” Diamondbacks pitching coach Mike Butcher said. “It’s a new role for him, but he’s taken it with open arms and has really excelled. At first it started off with us really getting him innings and he’s earned his way to the back end of the bullpen. He’s really throwing the ball extremely well for us.”
He’s also been a sturdy bridge to Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning, and a versatile weapon in that he can go multiple innings if need be.
“There’s been times when we’ve pushed him beyond that traditional one inning,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “We love the idea of him being able to block out two innings and get big outs at any place in the lineup. He’s a great weapon. He gives me a great degree of comfort knowing that he’s available down there.”
Bradley’s journey to the bullpen
But Bradley has done more that just have an impressive few months. He’s been the key to transforming the dynamic of an extremely effective Diamondbacks bullpen.
Initially, the shift to the bullpen provided a learning curve for the right-hander, who was drafted out of high school as a starter in 2011 and continued down that path in the minors and in parts of two seasons with the Diamondbacks in 2015 and 2016.
The results weren’t there for Bradley upon his first call to the big club, posting a 2-3 record with a 5.80 ERA in eight starts. When things didn’t get much better for Bradley last season, an 8-9 record with a 5.02 ERA in 26 starts, the team had a decision to make.
And given his recent success as a reliever, it seems the Diamondbacks made the right one.
“You have to figure things out a lot quicker (in the bullpen),” Bradley said. “Especially in the kind of games I’ve been throwing in, one pitch could change the game. So it’s understanding that with every pitch you have to be locked in, make sure you’re hitting your spots, and understanding who you’re facing in the situation. You really have to be on your game.”
There have been a few blips on the radar for Bradley — yielding a walk-off home run to the Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen on May 29 still irks him — but the tall righty has started to feel a great deal more confidence over the past couple of weeks.
“I’m just being aggressive. I gave up the walk-off to McCutchen … but even with those (mistakes) I’ve been striking guys out with the same pitches they hit,” Bradley said. “I’ve just been trying to stay true with the way I’ve been throwing and trying to attack guys.”
More D-Backs: Fernando Rodney moves down Tigers for another save
Bradley has found a routine and a level of comfort in a role in which he is still very new. For him to be a serviceable middle-relief option at this point would be impressive. But to see Bradley flourishing in high-leverage situations — and performing as well as the top relievers in the National League — is downright stunning.
“Things have changed in the fact that I’m starting to adapt,” he said. “I want to be well-rounded, and I want to be able to throw multiple innings, one out, it doesn’t matter. I just know whenever that phone rings I need to be able to lock it in and it doesn’t really matter what situation.”
Behind the bullpen revival
Bradley’s dominance has helped anchor a bullpen that entered Monday allowing the second-fewest runs per game (3.90) in the National League, and rate third-best in bullpen ERA (3.56) behind the Dodgers and Cubs.
The Diamondbacks own the league’s best inherited runner score percentage (IS%), a stat that measures the frequency of runners who subsequently scored after a relief pitcher entered the game, with a mark of 20 percent. Bradley has an IS% of 8 percent, the third-lowest percentage of any NL reliever with at least 12 inherited runners.
Arizona left-hander Jorge De La Rosa is the league leader with an IS% of 0 percent with the 13 runners he has inherited.
That’s quite a disparity from last season, where Arizona relievers yielded 5.49 runs per game and had a IS% of 37 percent — both of which ranked dead last in the National League.
“For all of us as a staff, that was our weak point last year,” said Bradley, who, entering games on Monday, ranked ninth in the National League with 10 holds. “To have a good bullpen, you have to have good starters. Our starters have set the tone. They’ve gone deep into games, set hitters up and thrown the right pitches so when we come into the game we can really throw whatever we want.”
The emergence of Bradley, as well as the closer Rodney’s recent run of 14 2/3 innings without an earned run, has created stability throughout the bullpen.
“I feel very good about the roles they’re in, the idea that they’re going out and performing at the level they are,” Lovullo said.
While there are key components to the bullpen that were the same last year, there are notable differences as well — the most obvious being the addition of Rodney and the new role for Bradley.
And while the dynamic has certainly changed for the relievers, Butcher believes the recent success can be partially attributed to preparation and camaraderie.
“I think it’s just a different blend. Not to take anything away from the guys we had last year, it’s just a different style to these guys,” Butcher said. “I think we have some leadership down there with (bullpen coach) Mike Fetters. He’s done a great job with our guys.
“They all know their strengths and weaknesses and have a good plan that they’re sticking to. They’re really close down there, as well,” he said. “I think that adds to what they’re doing.
Still, the 24-year-old Bradley said he believes he can win games as a starter, but right now his focus is being the guy no one wants to see come out of the bullpen door.
Bradley has all the right characteristics to be an elite closer down the road. He looks menacing on the hill, he throws gas and he relishes the big moments.
“There’s a certain energy this stadium has when Archie’s in the game,” Lovullo said. “He gets through moments very easily and very quickly.”
Whether his future is in the bullpen or as a starter, Bradley has undoubtedly found a niche and has proved himself an invaluable member to a pitching staff that has come a long way from last season.
“We’ve taken a lot of pride in not giving up runs and not giving up each other’s runs,” Bradley said. “We’ve taken pride in being a bullpen that other people are scared to face.”
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