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Bradley eyes returning to rotation one day

D-backs righty thrilled to play role in 'pen, but still hungers to start
MLB.com @RichardJustice

PHOENIX -- One of the National League's best relievers still sees himself as a starting pitcher, and that's unlikely to change for a while. On the other hand, Archie Bradley loves working out of the bullpen, and most days he does a good imitation of the happiest man on earth.

"You've gotta enjoy what you're doing," he said. "As last season went on, I kind of mentally transitioned into that back end of the game. The next thing you know, night in and night out, I was pitching in big, meaningful, impactful situations that determine games."

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PHOENIX -- One of the National League's best relievers still sees himself as a starting pitcher, and that's unlikely to change for a while. On the other hand, Archie Bradley loves working out of the bullpen, and most days he does a good imitation of the happiest man on earth.

"You've gotta enjoy what you're doing," he said. "As last season went on, I kind of mentally transitioned into that back end of the game. The next thing you know, night in and night out, I was pitching in big, meaningful, impactful situations that determine games."

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Bradley was one of the key contributors on one of baseball's most surprising teams in 2017, appearing in 63 games with a 1.73 ERA and 1.04 WHIP as the D-backs secured a National League Wild Card berth. His fastball velocity ticked up from 92.4 mph as a starter in '16 to 96.4.

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He's still working on his changeup, a pitch that might make his fastball/curveball combo even better. It would also come in handy, in case, you know, a chance to start rolls around again.

"No, not out of my system," Bradley said of being a starting pitcher. "I would love to get the opportunity to start again. I still feel the jury's out. I've made 34 big league starts. I don't think I've gotten to show whether I can be a starter or not. A lot of these guys that are called failed starters have had 100-150 starts in their career. I'm not there yet."

Bradley also wants to make this point: He is thrilled to be pitching in whatever role D-backs manager Torey Lovullo wants. That's the message Lovullo preached constantly in his first season as manager. Bradley bought in.

"If you can just shut your mouth and sit down and look at guys, you learn," he said. "I learned looking at [infielder] Daniel Descalso. He's won a World Series and has been a big-time player his whole career.

"He wasn't a starter for us every day, and his attitude was, 'If I'm a bench player, I want to be the best guy coming off the bench.' To hear a guy in his ninth year say that, you understand this is what it's about."

Video: CHC@ARI: Bradley flies out Almora for 1-2-3 5th frame

He remembers that day the D-backs clinched a playoff berth. He will treasure it forever.

"I'm getting chills thinking about it," he said. "Putting on the playoff shirt and the hat, as a kid, that's how I remembered teams celebrating. This is the feeling you want."

The D-backs defeated the Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game, then were swept by the Dodgers in an NL Division Series.

"It was the first time I was ready to go again as soon as the season ended," Bradley said. "I kept in touch with guys the whole offseason. Guys were out here way earlier than they'd ever been. Guys understand this is what it takes. You're either part of it, or you're not."

It was Bradley who brought up pitching out of the bullpen with Lovullo last spring.

"I'll do anything I can -- any role, any capacity," Lovullo remembered him saying.

There was the practical matter of the bullpen being a ticket to stay in the Majors. Arizona's rotation was one of baseball's three best in 2017, and Bradley was fighting for one of the final spots.

"I felt like the way I was throwing in spring last year, my mentality was that I was ready to face big league hitters every day," he said. "Not in a cocky way. I don't know what Triple-A was going to do for me anymore. I was ready to either be a big leaguer or not, you know what I mean?"

And one other thing.

"I just want to win," he said. "Whatever role that puts me in for us to win, that's what I want to go do."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Archie Bradley