Yes, it is early. But the two areas that general manager Kevin Towers made his offseason priorities -- the bullpen and putting the ball in play -- have shown signs of improvement.
The bullpen, now anchored by new closer J.J. Putz, has given up two earned runs in nine innings. Its season-long streak of eight innings without an earned run ended in the eighth inning of a 4-1 loss at the Chicago Cubs on Monday, when the Cubs got two off Kam Mickolio.
Relievers have walked two batters in the nine innings, one to bring up the pitchers' spot. Putz, back in the full time closer's role for the first time since 2008, converted his lone save opportunity of the season with a 1-2-3 11th inning in a 7-6, opening day victory over Colorado. He struck out the first two he faced and was ahead in the count on all three.
"The pitching has been very good. The pen's been good. The starters," Towers said.
The D-backs, who set a major league record with 1,529 strikeouts in 2010, have struck out seven times in each of their first three games this season, a pace for 1,134. Undoubtedly that figure could rise, but with the type of at-bats the D-backs have shown under hitting coach Don Baylor so far, it seems unlikely they will reach previous levels. The D-backs struck out 1,287 times in 2008 and 1,298 times in 2009.
"That's the thing. If we get guys on base and put the ball in play, good things can happen. When you are striking out 10, 12, 13 times, you have no chance," Towers said.
The D-backs have played much better than their 12-25 spring record indicated.
"That was one thing I didn't know. How were these guys to respond when the season starts?" Towers said. "They could have very easily rolled over on Day 1 and again (Saturday) night. They didn't."
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