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How injuries to Mark Melancon, Corbin Martin could shake up Diamondbacks bullpen competition

Jesse Friedman Avatar
March 18, 2023

Wednesday was a weird day for the Diamondbacks. They were scheduled to play two games. They wound up playing less than half of one, as their afternoon game against the San Francisco Giants was rained out entirely and their night game against the Milwaukee Brewers was called in the fourth inning.

Despite playing less than four innings of baseball, the Diamondbacks suffered their most troubling day of spring training on the injury front. Geraldo Perdomo, Diego Castillo, Corbin Martin and Mark Melancon were all banged up in some shape or form.

While Perdomo and Castillo have already returned to Cactus League action following an infield collision, Martin and Melancon will both miss considerable time with shoulder injuries.

Melancon is facing a timeline of “months, not weeks,” according to manager Torey Lovullo, with a subscapularis strain. Martin has a lat tendon tear in his right shoulder. The team is seeking a second opinion, but Lovullo again said that Martin will be out for months.

As discussed in my latest Opening Day roster projection article, Melancon was all but certain to make the roster, and Martin appeared to be on track to do so as well. Their absence changes the dynamics of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen competition.

“It should change for these guys knowing that two spots potentially were opened up,” Lovullo said. “They gotta go out and be the best version of themselves.

“I like that. I like the idea that that it’s gonna get even more competitive than it already was.”

With both Melancon and Martin out, here’s a look at several Diamondbacks relievers who could be in line to make the Opening Day roster.

Jeurys Familia

Veteran right-hander Jeurys Familia already had a decent shot at making the Opening Day roster before these injuries. Now, it seems likely. In 4.2 innings this spring, Familia has allowed only one run on four hits with four strikeouts.

The 33-year-old is looking to bounce back from arguably the worst season of his career. In 2022, Familia had a 6.09 ERA for the Philadelphia Phillies before being released on Aug. 6. The Boston Red Sox picked him up, but his results were similarly poor down the stretch.

It is worth noting that Familia has more closing experience than anyone else in the Diamondbacks’ bullpen competition. In 2015 for the New York Mets, Familia had a 1.85 ERA in 77.1 innings and amassed 43 saves. In 2016, he led all of baseball with 51 saves.

While Familia’s best days are likely behind him and it is unclear whether he is being considered to close games, perhaps pitching coach Brent Strom can help salvage what’s left of his respectable big-league career.

Kyle Nelson

D-backs left-hander Kyle Nelson was one of the team’s steadiest relievers last year before being sidelined with late-season shoulder and back injuries. In 37 innings, Nelson had a 2.19 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 2022.

Nelson’s peripherals, however, suggest he may be due for regression. His 19.9 percent strikeout rate was slightly lower than the league average, and his 9.3 percent walk rate was slightly higher than the league average. Nelson’s .243 BABIP is likely not sustainable.

The lefty has also struggled some in spring training, allowing four runs on nine hits over six innings.

Nonetheless, the sample size is small, and Nelson’s success in the majors last year figures to give him a leg up over the competition.

Cole Sulser

In 2021, Cole Sulser was one of the best relievers in baseball, posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 60 appearances for the Baltimore Orioles with a 28.4 percent strikeout rate and an 8.9 percent walk rate.

After being traded to the Miami Marlins just before the 2022 season, Sulser saw his four-seam fastball velocity tail off and his ERA spike. On the year, he had a 5.29 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 25.5 percent strikeout rate and 10.7 percent walk rate. His four-seamer went from 93.2 MPH on average in 2021 to 91.9 MPH last year.

The 33-year-old has only pitched in one spring training game with recorded Statcast data, but his four-seam velocity in that game was almost exactly on par with where it was last year. Nonetheless, Sulser has had quite a bit of success in the Cactus League. In five innings, he has yet to allow a run with two hits allowed, three walks and five strikeouts.

The D-backs claimed Sulser off waivers from the Miami Marlins in November and avoided arbitration with a one-year, $825,000 contract for 2023. In light of that investment, he might have an inside track to a roster spot.

Carlos Vargas

The Diamondbacks sent down flame-throwing right-hander Justin Martinez to Triple-A Reno on Tuesday, but another young flamethrower is still in camp: Carlos Vargas.

Vargas, 23, has been pumping 100-plus MPH velocity with regularity throughout spring training, and the box score results have been good, too. Vargas has allowed only two runs in 6.2 innings with eight strikeouts.

The D-backs acquired Vargas in a trade with the Cleveland Guardians in November. Vargas had an unassuming 4.81 ERA in 24.1 innings with Double-A Akron last year, but he excelled upon reaching Triple-A Columbus. In 10 innings, he allowed only one run on eight hits with five walks and 16 strikeouts. He has yet to pitch in the majors.

Vargas still has options remaining and the D-backs may be more inclined to get him further work in the minors than rush him to the big leagues, but the injuries to Martin and Melancon can only improve his chances.

Zach McAllister

From 2015-17, Zach McAllister was one of the better relievers in baseball for the Cleveland Indians. Prior to that, McAllister was a starter, dating back to his big-league debut in 2011. Now, he has become something of a minor-league journeyman, with his last big-league appearance coming in 2018.

McAllister is coming off a solid year with Triple-A Memphis, though, as part of the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization. In 56 appearances in relief, he had a 3.99 ERA over 67.2 innings with 90 strikeouts and 27 walks. It was by far the best season he’s had in the minors since his last year in the big leagues.

The 35-year-old has followed that up with a solid showing in the Cactus League. In 6.1 innings, he has allowed two runs on seven hits with one walk and six strikeouts.

Notably, McAllister is one of few relievers in D-backs camp with recent experience working multiple innings. Out of his 56 appearances in the minors last year, he threw two or more innings 11 times.

Lovullo said on Thursday that the D-backs will not necessarily have a traditional long man, which would make relievers like McAllister particularly useful.

“Not like you’d think, not like that guy that needs cover five or six innings,” Lovullo said, “but somebody that could cover multiple innings? Yes, for sure.

“If that’s what ends up happening, you get two or two-plus from somebody who can kind of fill in the gaps with the rest of the guys in the bullpen and get through the day.”

Should the Diamondbacks need someone to give them multiple innings on occasion — a role that Martin appeared to be in line for — McAllister could be a natural fit.

Mitchell Stumpo

Team Italy is now out of the World Baseball Classic following a loss to Team Japan, but Diamondbacks reliever Mitchell Stumpo threw well in three appearances, allowing no runs in three innings with one walk and five strikeouts.

Stumpo, 26, acted as a closer of sorts for Italy, finishing all three games that he pitched. In his last outing, he struck out all three batters he faced against Team Japan.

Entering the 2022 season, Stumpo looked like a strong candidate to be called up at some point in the year. Ultimately, command issues plagued his season in Triple-A Reno — he walked 31 in 43.1 innings — and that call-up never happened.

Nonetheless, Stumpo’s fastball-slider combo still seems promising, and farm director Josh Barfield expressed optimism about Stumpo’s future when I spoke with him at the end of last season.

“He got off to a really good start,” Barfield said. “There were some struggles there in the middle of the year, and part of that was challenging him to use his other weapons.

“If you look at what he’s done the last month or so of the season, it’s been really, really good. We’re still really excited about him.”

Follow Jesse Friedman on Twitter

Top photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic

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