For the better part of the past three weeks, the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff has ranked among the best in baseball. And yet it hasn’t been good enough to win.
By and large, the Diamondbacks’ recent struggles have stemmed from an anemic offense, and it’s left the pitching staff to exist in a state of near-constant stress, having to operate under the assumption that a single mistake could cost them the game – or, perhaps, even the season.
While they’d almost certainly appreciate more run support, the Diamondbacks pitchers have been diplomatic when answering reporters’ questions in recent days, saying they welcome the challenge close games present and that they still have faith the offense will snap out of its funk before it’s too late.
“That’s this game,” reliever Archie Bradley said. “That’s the way it’s been the whole year for us. That’s what we’re asked to do. We’re going to be asked to do it in the playoffs and down this stretch to make the playoffs. Whether it’s a one-run lead or a nine-run lead, whatever, we have to do our job and protect it.”
It has been more than two weeks since the last time the Diamondbacks scored at least six runs in a game, and there have been only four instances in the past 11 games in which they have generated a lead of at least three runs.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks’ pitching staff has a 2.79 ERA since Aug. 19, the fifth-lowest mark in the majors. The Diamondbacks have won just six of 14 games during that stretch.
“It magnifies mistakes a lot more,” right-hander Clay Buchholz said. “It can help you or it can hurt you depending on how the game is going. If you’re locked in and it’s a really close game, it probably helps you stay locked in. But if runners are on base all the time, it can make you start thinking, ‘I can’t mess up here because we haven’t scored.’ ”
Now in his 12th season in the majors, Buchholz said it took him years to develop the right mind-set that allowed him to properly handle those type of situations. He can remember times when he was a young starter with the Boston Red Sox that he worried about a bad outing costing him his roster spot.
“That was in the back of my head,” he said. “So it took me a little time to understand what you had to do and what you didn’t need to do in certain situations.
“Every pitch, don’t think about the last one and don’t think the one after this one, just think about this one. It’s one pitch at a time.”
Another of the club’s veterans, reliever Brad Ziegler, acknowledged times when he used to allow the pressure of the moment to alter his heart rate and, ultimately, his performance. He said that five or six years ago, during his previous stint with the Diamondbacks, he developed a breathing technique that’s helped him feel in control of moments.
“I’ve got a little something written in my hat, just a reminder, basically, not to let the situation speed the game up, just to keep everything nice and slow,” Ziegler said. “When you’re moving slowly, then you’re moving more fluidly and you tend to perform better at that point.”
Manager Torey Lovullo sees the tight games as a positive in that it forces players to maintain their focus.
“I think it reinforces everything we try to ,” Lovullo said, “and that’s play good, team, fundamental baseball. Execute fundamentally and don’t take anything for granted.”
The bullpen has coughed up a handful of leads in recent weeks – Brad Boxberger blew a save on the previous homestand while the Dodgers rallied twice against Bradley over the weekend – but the Diamondbacks still own the best bullpen ERA in the league (3.16). The unit has a 3.64 ERA during the previous 11 games.
“I think, overall, we’ve done pretty well, especially as a whole pitching staff, we’ve been doing a pretty good job of keeping us in games, especially when we weren’t scoring,” Ziegler said. “Even when we do give up runs, we have to limit damage. We can’t give up four or five runs in an inning. That’s when things get out of hand. I think everyone has done a pretty good job of doing that.”
Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.