The ugly specter of the “blown save” haunted the Diamondbacks once again.
Last season, Arizona lead the majors with 29 blown saves and in the off-season, Heath Bell, the main culprit, was shipped out of the desert.
Apparently, that did not solve the nagging issue because Will Harris appeared in Thursday afternoon’s game with the San Francisco Giants disguised as Bell.
Entering the contest with a 5-3 lead in the eighth, Harris did his best Bell imitation and surrendered five runs in two-thirds of an inning. The result was a disastrous 8-5 defeat to the Giants before a matinee crowd of 19,131.
While Harris' result could be considered "a blown save," there existed an eerie feeling what happened had a very familiar ring.
In manager Kirk Gibson’s pre-game session with the media Thursday, a question was posed whether Harris could emerge as the D-backs set-up reliever. That is in light of the season-ending, Tommy John surgery to David Hernandez. Gibson’s response was simply, “we’ll see.”
Perhaps Gibson now has an answer.
Afterward, Harris said a double to back-up catcher Hector Sanchez was the key hit and not the devastating three run bomb off the bat of Angel Pagan.
The Sanchez double scored Hunter Pence, who walked, and brought the Giants to within one at 5-4. An intentional walk to pinch hitter Buster Posey followed and Michael Morse, pinch-hitting for reliever Jean Machi, laced a single to score Sanchez to tie the score.
Then, Pagan, who blistered the Diamondbacks with an 8-for-19 series and .471 average, lifted Harris’ first pitch into the right field stands for the three run margin of victory.
“The pitch to Pagan was a fast ball down and in and that’s where I wanted to throw it,” Harris said. “He turned on it and had a good swing. He’s a good hitter but the pitch I want back was the one to Sanchez. I left that up and he got it.”
The reality of “blown saves” was supposed to be addressed in the off-season, but Harris proved the hits just keep on coming.
With the defeat, the Diamondbacks have dropped five of their first six games and things appear spiraling out of control.
“Disappointing,” is the way Gibson described the start of the season. “We’ll regroup. We all have a job to do and we won’t be detoured.”
The afternoon started well with Paul Goldschmidt doing his usual thing against Giants’ starter Tim Lincecum.
Though he has little explanation why he hits Lincecum, a former two-time Cy Young Award winner, so well, Goldschmidt continued the power surge on the first pitch he saw from Lincecum Thursday afternoon.
That delivery was deposited just over the right centerfield fence to give the D-backs an early 2-1 lead but the Diamondbacks could not stand prosperity. The home run extended Goldschmidt's hitting streak to 25 games, second longest in franchise history. Just ahead is Luis Gonzalez, who hit in 30 straight in 1999.
Coming into Thursday game, Goldschmidt was 10-for-20 lifetime against Lincecum with five home runs and 11 RBIs. Goldschmidt’s feast against Lincecum continued with a 2-for-3 day but the end result was maddening.
During the sparkling, spring afternoon, Goldschmidt received a little help from his friends.
With the game tied at 2-2 in the sixth, Mark Trumbo unloaded his second home run of the year off, that off Lincecum, and that created a two run margin.
Later in the seventh, second baseman Aaron Hill, who contributed with a 3-for-4 afternoon, knocked in Gerardo Parra with a double into the left field corner. That created the 5-3 lead from which the bullpen could not hold.
From that point, Harris’ catastrophe overshadowed a game which was clearly winnable.
“We needed six guys to get two outs (in the eighth inning) and that didn’t happen,” lamented Gibson. “The shot from Pagan was a killer and he’s made himself a good hitter.”
Then, Gibson put Harris’ blown save experience in perspective.
“What happened (Thursday) had nothing to with last year,” the manager said. “That was last year and this is this year.”
ON THE WAY BACK
On Tuesday, Diamondbacks’ reliever David Hernandez successfully underwent Tommy John surgery to repair ligament damage to his right elbow.
By Thursday morning, Hernandez was back in the D-backs clubhouse, a sling supporting his damaged right elbow but a smile flashing across his face.
“When it was first diagnosed, I felt blind-sided,” he said speaking with reporters in front of his locker. “Now, I’m resigned and feel pretty good.”
Feeling discomfort just over two weeks ago, Hernandez said he thought the issue might be a bone spur. Trying to pitch through the pain, he indicated the discomfort was easing. Yet pitching last Tuesday, he said the pain intensified and ready to get a diagnosis about the sensation.
“The team was facing some roster decisions, so I decided to take an MRI and see what was going on,” he added. “That’s when I learned the ligament was torn. At this point, you have to accept it and not let it defeat you.”
The injury came at the most inopportune time.
Hernandez was about to rebound from a strong September and resume his role as the D-back set-up reliever.
Then, news of the ligament damage and a year of recovery and rehabilitation.
The road back began with a demotion to Triple A Reno last Aug. 10. Hernandez then retuned to the Diamondbacks with strength and purpose renewed on Sept. 1. In 14 innings of work in September, Hernandez posted an 0.64 ERA and allowed one earned run in 14 innings.
This spring, Hernandez reported to camp in top shape, lost weight and ready to pick off where he left off last September. Then, he found his arm in a sling and spirits compromised.
Over the past year, Hernandez and lefty Patrick Corbin have become good friends and now each facing a long rehab period.
Last month, Corbin went a similar operation to repair a torn ligament in his left elbow.
“We support each other,” Hernandez said. “We’ll go through the same process and hopefully we’ll be come healthy and ready to contribute to the team.”
A DAY OFF
On Thursday, reserve catcher Tuffy Gosewisch started and batted eighth against the Giants’ Tim Lincecum.
The move is designed to rest starter Miguel Montero and, at the same time, to preserve Montero’s health.
“We want to minimize Montero’s time,” said manager Kirk Gibson before Thursday game with San Francisco. “It’s a hard decision because Montero is our guy. Over the past few years, he’s caught the most innings of any catcher in the game but we can’t continue on that pace.”
Montero is slated to catch the three games in Denver this weekend against the Rockies.
NEXT ON THE SCHEDULE
The D-backs now open the road portion of the schedule by helping the Rockies commence their home season.
On Friday afternoon, Randall Delgado starts for Arizona and right-hander Juan Nicasio goes for Colorado. On Saturday, it’s Brandon McCarthy for the D-backs and he opposes left Jorge De La Rosa. Sunday’s match-up has Wade Miley for Arizona and lefty Brett Anderson for Colorado.
The Diamondbacks then return to Chase Field to face the Dodgers and Mets in a six game home stand from April 11 through the 16th .