Hall, D-backs relievers clean up at Fan Cave
NEW YORK -- D-backs president Derrick Hall and relievers Heath Bell and Matt Reynolds took bubble baths Wednesday morning in Manhattan.
In this case, they each took turns sitting (clothed) in the classic tub in the basement of the MLB Fan Cave, reading lines for an upcoming video that will pay a unique salute to their manager, Kirk Gibson, who hit one of the most famous homers in history a quarter-century ago.
"It's fun, especially being here and doing this with some of our guys," Hall said. "We've made it pretty clear that it's not us and them, it's not the front office and the clubhouse -- we're all one family. They see me doing it. I see them doing it. We're all in it together."
One night earlier, Reynolds and Bell each had struck out Robinson Cano to end an inning, after Cano had done enough damage in a Yankees victory to start the D-backs and Yanks series in the Bronx. Those relievers did their jobs, and Hall said that reflected what he has seen from Arizona's bullpen in 2013.
Bell struck out the side in the eighth and has whiffed nine in his last four outings (3 2/3 innings). Reynolds and David Hernandez each have held opponents scoreless in six straight games. Brad Ziegler finally gave up a run Tuesday after six straight scoreless outings. Four of newcomer Tony Sipp's last five appearances have been zeros. Josh Collmenter earned the win in the D-backs' 16-inning affair vs. the Cards on April 3.
The pieces are gradually fitting together for a bullpen that has been recast since last season ended. The sample size is small, but Hall said he likes what he sees so far and believes Arizona general manager Kevin Towers has compiled a bullpen capable of getting the D-backs back into the postseason.
"[Towers has] always been an expert in building solid bullpens," Hall said as he watched Bell and Reynolds enjoy the loose atmosphere at the MLB Fan Cave. "We think you certainly shorten the game with a solid bullpen. That was one of our strengths two years ago when we won the division. We wanted to get back to that. We realized that we had a weakness from the left side this year, so we paid particular attention to go out and get Matt and get Tony, and then bringing in Heath Bell was just to bring in another guy capable of closing games who has experience in the back end. Now he's our seventh-inning guy leading to Hernandez and to Putz, and any one of the three can close on any given day."
Bell leads all MLB relievers with 152 saves since 2009, and the D-backs were hoping for the old Bell when they acquired him from Miami over the offseason. There was concern a couple weeks ago that he might be tipping pitches, following a bruising from St. Louis, requiring the club to "look at video for quite a while," but Hall reiterated Wednesday that Bell has made adjustments. His striking out the side a night earlier was a positive sign.
"I think we're seeing Heath Bell back in his old form," Hall said. "His velocity has been there, he's made a few adjustments, and he's very comfortable pitching in the National League West, which is where he certainly had his best years. I think so far, it's a very good sign that the Heath Bell we were hoping to get has arrived. ... He's back to where he was dominant in the NL West."
Bell became the first player to get inside the giant hamster wheel inside the Fan Cave entrance, squeezing himself in and then trying to walk on the rollers. Hall held his breath. It was that kind of fun, just like the "fun runs" that the Arizona pitchers all do together, the kind of fun Bell said he is hoping to see more of in 2013 after a forgettable '12.
"We all kind of know our roles, and we all want to win," Bell said. "I've been a closer for a long time, and when I'm not closing, I've been the seventh-inning guy. ... I just want to help the team win, and I think everybody in the bullpen is that way. We don't care what our numbers are at the end of the day, all we care about is if we get the win. So we just want to go out there and help the team win, and I think everybody buys into that and I think that's why we're so good."
Reynolds grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago, watching Cubs games at Wrigley Field. The last game he watched in the Windy City as a fan was while he was a junior at Austin Peay State University, a White Sox game during their 2005 championship campaign.
When he came in for the fifth inning Tuesday to replace Brendan McCarthy, Reynolds looked at a litany of veterans -- guys like Cano, Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki. He struck out Ichiro swinging on a 79-mph slider to end a six-pitch at-bat, and after yielding an infield single to Eduardo Nunez, induced a double play. Reynolds' sixth-inning was 1-2-3, catching Cano looking on an 88-mph four-seamer. Job done.
"It was one of those crazy moments in baseball where you're facing a lot of guys who you've watched on TV for a long time, and you're pitching at Yankee Stadium, which is unique in its own," Reynolds said. "But we're down a run (3-2), I was just trying to pass the baton on to the next guy, hoping we'd scrape a run or two across and get the win."
Now Reynolds continues to make a smooth transition as a key arm within the NL West, where his former Rockies club just happens to reside on top of the standings for now.
"We're a pretty close group," Reynolds said. "Everybody gets along, it's just one of those things that when you get together and everybody enjoys their time together, that you can kind of all make a push toward the same direction. That's something we've got down there."