Brad Ziegler’s fourth pitch of the night was blasted into the right-field seats. As he watched it sail out, a look of defeat flashed across his face. This was in early June, the last time Ziegler stepped foot on the Chase Field mound, then as a member of the Miami Marlins.
He had been getting hit hard in the season’s first two-plus months. His back was hurting him. At 38 years old, he worried about his future in baseball.
“It definitely crossed my mind,” he said, “about the possibility of being (designated for assignment) or released.”
So much has changed over the past two months – changed for the better – and on his first day back with the Diamondbacks, who acquired him as a bullpen reinforcement prior to Tuesday’s non-waiver trade deadline, Ziegler said that trip to Arizona was the beginning of his turnaround.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Ziegler said. “It changed when I came here.”
Searching for answers for his back pain during that series in June, Ziegler paid a visit to Chuck Clark, a chiropractor he knew from his previous stint with the Diamondbacks. Clark’s adjustments helped.
With the Marlins headed next to St. Louis, Clark reached out to Brett Winchester, a Cardinals chiropractor, and Ziegler received similar treatment the next week. When the team returned home, the Marlins’ chiropractors took over from there.
“Since then I was able to go out and worry about executing pitches instead of worrying about, ‘Is my back going to hurt when I throw this?’” Ziegler said. “It’s made a big difference mentally knowing that when I get on the mound, I’ve got one thing to focus on now.”
Ziegler believes it’s no coincidence his performance changed drastically from that point on. In his first 25 appearances, Ziegler posted a 7.88 ERA. Since leaving Arizona in June, he’s allowed just two earned runs in 28 innings.
Ziegler spent parts of six seasons with the Diamondbacks from 2011 to 2016. He was acquired from the Athletics as part of a trade-deadline deal in 2011 and dealt to the Red Sox prior to the deadline in 2016.
During his time in between, he was arguably the most effective reliever in franchise history. In 348 appearances, he logged a 2.49 ERA, pitching in a variety of roles, including spending parts of three seasons as the closer.
The Diamondbacks haven’t disclosed exactly what Ziegler’s role will be the rest of this season, but manager Torey Lovullo noted the sidearmer’s effectiveness against right-handed hitters – they have just a .221 average and .305 on-base against him this season – and suggested he could look to match him up late in games.
Ziegler described the feeling of being back as both familiar and surreal. He hopes that the familiarity of the organization might make it easier to settle in.
He doesn’t think he’d be in this position if his back still felt the way it did. He said he’s dealt with it since the beginning of last season and that chiropractors believe the issue might stem from a rib that popped out of place.
“When they adjust it, they keep having to put it back in,” he said. “The muscles around it were just inflamed a little bit. … Once the pain went away, I woke up and felt like a new person.”
Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.