Manager Torey Lovullo acknowledged last week that Hirano would likely rank behind Archie Bradley in the pecking order for saves heading into spring training, Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports. "Personally, I think if you were going to come up here and arm wrestle me and force me to give you a decision, I'll probably start with Archie Bradley as the extreme back end of the equation," Lovullo said. Brad Boxberger served as the Diamondbacks' primary end-gamer in 2018 before a string of rough outings prompted Lovullo to turn to Hirano as the main ninth-inning man over the final few weeks of the season. Hirano, who had been an accomplished closer in Japan before signing with the Diamondbacks last December, converted three saves in four chances over the last month of the season and finished his first MLB campaign with a 2.44 ERA and 1.09 WHIP across 66.1 innings. Despite his success, Hirano's lack of premium heat and reliance on inducing soft contact for outs makes him a rather non-traditional closing option at the major-league level, so it's perhaps unsurprising that Lovullo views the hard-throwing Bradley as a more worthy candidate for that role. There's still a chance that the Diamondbacks will look outside of the organization to bring in a more battle-tested closer, but in any case, Hirano is unlikely to be first in line for saves during the upcoming campaign.
Hirano struck out one in a perfect ninth inning to record the save against the Padres on Saturday. Hirano entered the game in the ninth inning with a one-run lead and had little trouble racking up his third save of the season. He got his first save Sept. 11 but has only gotten three save chances since. The 34-year-old had an effective rookie season, recording 32 holds while posting a 2.44 ERA and 1.09 WHIP to along with 59 strikeouts across 66.1 innings.
Hirano retired only two of the six batters he faced in Monday's 7-4 loss to the Dodgers and was charged with three earned runs on two hits and two walks. He also threw a pair of wild pitches. Hirano appeared to unseat Brad Boxberger as the Diamondbacks' closer after going 2-for-3 in save chances between Sept. 11 and 14, but he hasn't had any additional opportunities to build up job security. Monday's loss was the Diamondbacks' eighth in the last nine games, resulting in Hirano making only two appearances over that span. While he was roughed up during his 27-pitch outing, Hirano entered the contest with the Diamondbacks already trailing 4-3, so it shouldn't affect his status as the leading candidate for saves over the final week of the regular season.
Hirano was able to pick up his second save of the season in Friday's 4-2 win over the Astros. He allowed a single and a walk in a scoreless inning of work. After blowing a save Wednesday, Hirano was given another chance to handle the ninth inning and he managed to keep the Astros off the board. It appears that he may have a grip on the closer duties in Arizona for now, but the situation is still worth watching. Hirano has a 2.12 ERA with 55 strikeouts over 63.2 innings so far in 2018.
Hirano (4-3) blew the save and took the loss Wednesday, allowing two runs on two hits while recording one out against the Rockies. Hirano was called upon for a save opportunity for a second consecutive night, but he allowed a leadoff single and then a walkoff home run to take the defeat. Given that the 34-year-old got the nod both Tuesday and Wednesday it appears he is manager Torey Lovullo's preferred option to handle ninth-inning duties, though the leash just got shorter.