When Drew broke his right ankle sliding into home plate on July 20, ending his season, the common feeling was that the ride had been nice, but Arizona was finished. The Diamondbacks are 35-17 since then.
After Arizona went on a six-game slide in a rugged road trip a month ago, the lead over the Giants dipped to a game, then the Diamondbacks reeled off nine wins in a row. Punchless San Francisco couldn’t keep up. Heading into this weekend’s final road series of the regular season, at San Diego, Arizona has won 19 of 23.
The late roll coincides with one final roster shake-up, the trade of slumping second baseman Kelly Johnson to Toronto for second baseman Aaron Hill and utility infielder John McDonald.
The young right-handers at the top of the rotation, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, arrived via trade.
Kennedy, 26, came from the Yankees before the 2010 season as part of the three-team deal that sent Curtis Granderson from Detroit to New York and right-hander Max Scherzer from Arizona to the Tigers. After missing nearly all of 2009 because of an aneurysm near his right shoulder, Kennedy was 9-10 with a 3.80 ERA as a rookie with Arizona in 2010.
His strong spring led Kennedy to be named the opening day starter, and Kennedy took off from there, going 19-4 with a 2.99 ERA.
Hudson, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 232 pounds, came to Arizona in the middle of the 2010 season from the Chicago White Sox for Edwin Jackson and promptly finished the season 7-1 with the Diamondbacks. After a 3-2 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday night, Hudson is 16-10 with a 3.39 ERA. That’s after an 0-4 start.
“Our 1-2 guys are pretty damn good,” Gibson said. “Don’t tell anybody. Just keep talking about those other guys. Let our guys just relax and pitch.”
Good starting pitching doesn’t mean much if the bullpen is lousy, and last year’s relief corps in Arizona was historically bad.
One of Towers’ first orders of business when he was hired a year ago was to overhaul the bullpen, and he went looking for a free agent closer, one that Arizona’s limited budget could afford. That led him to J.J. Putz, a former closer who was the setup man for the White Sox last year. As closer for Seattle in 2006 and 2007, Putz was 10-2 with 76 saves.
“We had good scouting reports on him that all felt if you’d done it before you could probably do it again, given the opportunity,” Towers said.
Putz earned his 40th save on Tuesday night.
Of equal importance was the addition of Daniel Hernandez, the hard-throwing right-hander who has been the setup man for Putz and spelled the closer when necessary. Hernandez came from Baltimore in the trade that sent strikeout-prone third baseman Mark Reynolds to the Orioles.
The outcome of those moves might have been predictable.
Other contributions weren’t.