One mark of a winner is a team’s ability to finish off an opponent.
For most of this season, the Diamondbacks’ bullpen has been efficient in accomplishing this feat. Aside from the inconsistencies of Addison Reed and Enrique Burgos, both since sent to the minors, the bullpen has performed with competence.
When manager Chip Hale decided to take out starter Jeremy Hellickson after six innings Sunday, this was yet another demonstration of the bullpen’s collective ability to close down an opponent.
After Hellickson shut out the visiting Milwaukee Brewers over the first six innings, the bullpen of Andrew Chafin, Dave Hernandez and Brad Ziegler then slammed the door, and enabled the Diamondbacks to come away with a 3-0 victory over Milwaukee on Sunday before 24,216 in Chase Field.
The victory gave the Diamondbacks this series by taking three of four. Heading out on a 10-game road trip, Arizona now sits nine games behind the National League West Division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers and seven and one-half back in the wild card.
The effort from Hellickson culminated a weekend in which Arizona starters were dominat.
Beginning with a strong effort from Zack Godley in his major league debut Thursday night, Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa, Godley and Hellickson combined to post a 0.33 ERA in 27 innings of work. That included 29 strikeouts and opponents hitting .168 against these Diamondbacks starters in the last four games.
In the process, the Diamondbacks also recorded consecutive shutouts for the 10th time in franchise history, and the first time since June 3-4, 2011 against Washington.
For Hellickson, the effort was his sixth quality start in his last seven starts.
“The confidence was always there, and never wavered,” he said. “(On Sunday), I made the pitches when I needed, and hit my spots.”
The hallmark of closing the Sunday game was the way the pitching staff handled the Brewers. Combined, the four Diamondbacks pitches allowed only two Milwaukee hitters to reach second, and retired 14 of the final 15 hitters. The only base runner in this stretch was a two-out walk by Ziegler to catcher Martin Maldonado in the ninth.
Particularly effective in shutting down the Brewers was reliever David Hernandez. Though he pitched a one-two-three eighth inning, including two strikeouts, Hernandez appears fully recovered from Tommy John surgery which sidelined the right-hander for the 2014 season.
With his solid effort Sunday, Hernandez has turned in six straight scoreless appearances.
“It’s starting to come together,” he said. “The crispness of the pitches is there, and with that the confidence grows. Each time out, I feel better.”
If Hernandez believes he’s ready to step forward, the same can be said for third baseman Jake Lamb.
Contributing with a run-producing triple in the fourth and scoring after leading off the sixth with a double, Lamb is now hit safely in nine of his last 11 home games.
Starting out with over a .400 batting average in the opening weeks of the season, Lamb went on the disabled for over a month with left foot stress reaction. Slow to return to the form of earlier in the season, Lamb starting to pick up where he left off in late April.
“When I came back, I didn’t trust the plan,” he said. “Then, I spoke with (hitting coaches Turner Ward and Mark Grace), and began to trust the plan. I was just a matter of executing the plan.”
The road back is also visible to others.
“(Lamb) is starting to come through again,” said manager Chip Hale. “It’s coming for him.”
The Diamondbacks now leave town as winners in three of their last four games, and a series victory.
“It’s always tough to take three of four in the major league,” Hale noted. “I spoke to the players before the game, told them to be ready, be prepared and go after them.”
Now, the Diamondbacks take on American League teams in the next six games. So far this season, they have won four of six games against AL clubs.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The Diamondbacks now embark on a 10-game road trip.
First stop is Seattle and three with the Mariners.
On Monday night, it’s lefty Robbie Ray (3-5, 2.72 ERA) going against left-hander Mike Montgomery (4-4, 3.25). On Tuesday night, look for rookie Zach Godley (1-0, 0.00) making his second major league start, and opposing right Hisahi Iwakuma (2-1, 4.50).
For the finale Wednesday night, lefty Patrick Corbin takes the ball from manager Chip Hale and faces righty Felix Hernandez (12-5, 2.69).
Then it’s on to Houston for three and Washington for four on this trip.