'That's where I belong': Melancon vying to regain closer role

February 17th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Fresh off an offseason that saw him retool his mechanics, right-hander is determined to once again be the D-backs' closer when the regular season opens.

“I want to be the closer,” Melancon said.

Arizona signed Melancon to a two-year contract following the 2021 season, with the idea that he would solidify the closer’s role, an area with which the franchise had struggled for a couple of seasons prior. He had finished '21 with an MLB-best 39 saves for the Padres, compiling a 2.23 ERA in 64 games. It was a signing that seemed like a great fit for both sides, especially after Melancon converted his first five save opportunities with the D-backs the following season.

It would not remain smooth sailing, though, as Melancon struggled and manager Torey Lovullo eventually removed him from the closer’s role.

For his part, the righty worked tirelessly with pitching coach Brent Strom and bullpen coach Mike Fetters to try and figure out how to get back on track. It was a mission that he took into the offseason, when he worked on changes to his mechanics at Cutternation Baseball Training in San Diego.

“I probably learned more in this offseason than I've ever learned,” Melancon said. “Just changed a lot of my delivery, and I’m still tweaking it. So it’s been it's been a lot of fun, one of the most fun offseasons from that perspective. Every day just learning and getting after it.”

This is the first time since 2011 that Melancon has made mechanical changes to this degree.

Cutternation calls itself “San Diego’s comprehensive data driven baseball training experience,” and as he did during last season, Melancon dove headfirst into the data again this winter.

“Technology's flourished and allowed us to see a lot of things,” Melancon said. “I'm probably three or four years behind. I should have done this four years ago, but better late than never.”

Melancon never lacks motivation, but finishing out of the closer’s role and with a 4.66 ERA -- his worst since 2012 -- just added fuel to his fire.

“Personally and team-wise, we didn’t have a great year,” he said. “So I definitely don’t want that to happen again for sure.”

The D-backs added several arms to their bullpen this winter, among them , and . There was even talk about having a closer competition in camp.

In his first media session of the spring on Wednesday, Lovullo said that while in the past he always preferred having a set closer, he might be more fluid this year and go by matchups. But he also said that someone could jump up and take hold of the role.

That’s what Melancon is hoping to do.

“I just know that's where I belong,” he said. “That's where I'm best at and that's where I can add the most value and that's where I want to be.”

Melancon, who will turn 38 in late March, views the situation as a competition against himself, as opposed to his teammates. He is focused on making himself better, while also serving as a resource for his younger bullpen mates.

“I don't think about competing against the other guys,” Melancon said. “I want everybody to be really good, so it’s not a competition. I know it is a competition, but I want everyone to do well. And if I say it’s a competition, that means I’m kind of rooting against people. And I don’t want that.”