D-backs' bullpen situation to be 'fluid' in 2023

February 15th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Fresh off a season in which the D-backs improved their record by 22 games and entering a camp filled with talented, young players, there was a lot of optimism Wednesday as Arizona pitchers and catchers went through their first workouts of the spring.

But as manager Torey Lovullo pointed out, good vibes will only carry the team so far.

“We still have a long way to go,” Lovullo said. “So there's definitely an excitement here, we see the caliber players [we have], but you can't win baseball games based on that. You’ve got to go out and prep, give good effort, execute and [do the little things right], and we’ll start that process today.

“I’m reading the same thing that everything else is reading and it feels nice, but I’m not going to believe it until we do it -- and we’ve got to earn things around here. That’s our mindset: We’ve got to earn it every day.”

The D-backs made official the signing of veteran left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin on Wednesday. The 32-year-old, who came up through the Arizona farm system and pitched for the D-backs from 2014-20, signed a one-year, $6.25 million contract with a club option for ‘24.

“I basically grew up here, so it was nice to be able to come back to a familiar place,” Chafin said. “It was the best deal in a place that I liked, so it worked out well.”

Chafin was originally a starter for the D-backs before being moved to the bullpen. He always had expressed a preference for starting, but he has long since settled into, and found a niche in, the bullpen.

“It's one of those things where starting would have been more fun back when pitchers were allowed to hit,” Chafin said. “Now I'd definitely rather be in the bullpen because it's more fun on a day-to-day basis. And I feel like I'm pretty decent at it sometimes.”

Chafin posted a 2.83 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings over 64 appearances for Detroit in 2022 and has been able to handle a heavy workload over the years. He leads all pitchers with 375 appearances since the beginning of 2017, recording a 140 ERA+ in that span.

“You know how I used him,” Lovullo said of his previous time managing Chafin. “You know how much I counted on him. I explained to him that I won't try to set the single-season record for outings, but we're going to count on him to go out and get big outs for us for sure.”

Speaking of the bullpen, the D-backs don’t have a de facto closer and while there will be competition for the role during the spring, it’s also possible that they head into the season with matchups determining who gets the game’s final outs instead of it always being one person.

“We're gonna be fluid in that area,” Lovullo said. “What I've done for the past six years is, I've always had a closer. That’s just how my mind works. But I've got to evolve a little bit in that area. So if I feel the need to I will [name a closer], if somebody emerges I might, but for right now it's very fluid. I haven't yet made up my mind about naming somebody as our ninth-inning guy.”

One thing that Lovullo is sure of is that he doesn’t want to hear any complaining from his pitchers about the rules changes regarding the pitch timer. That was made clear to the staff by pitching coach Brent Strom in the morning meeting.

“The guys know what the rules are and they're gonna have to work within those boundaries and we outlined that today,” Lovullo said. “It was an uncomfortable conversation. The guys were all kind of shaking their heads. But what Strommy said to the group was, ‘I don't want to hear anybody complaining about it. We have to adapt to it. It's not going away.' So we'll find out who needs to make some adjustments and we'll get it done.”

As part of that process, the D-backs will begin using a pitch timer for bullpen sessions so pitchers will get comfortable with the timing and pace.