Brad Ziegler ‘so far, so good' as Arizona Diamondbacks closer
Brad Ziegler has been a closer before, but then he got the swine flu.
After being called up to the Oakland Athletics in 2008 -- a year during which Ziegler tallied 11 saves, the right-hander was ordained the team's closer headed into the 2009 season.
He recorded four saves in five opportunities for the A's, before contracting the H1N1 flu virus (more commonly known as the swine flu). Current Boston Red Sox reliever Andrew Bailey inherited the closer job in Ziegler's stead, ultimately going on to win American League Rookie of the Year honors for his ninth-inning magnificence.
Bailey's dominance relegated Ziegler to a seventh or eighth inning setup role, where he'd stay when he arrived in Arizona in 2011.
More than four years later, things have come full circle.
The Diamondbacks have collectively blown 19 saves this season -- five apiece belonging to each of J.J. Putz, Heath Bell and David Hernandez. Ziegler has meanwhile converted each of his five save opportunities this season, officially taking over as the team's closer earlier this month.
Though he has just 24 career saves to his name, Ziegler has been effective in the role.
"So far, so good," Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson said prior to Friday's series opener versus the San Diego Padres.
"We've gotten some pretty good ground balls out of him, and that's what we're trying to do -- keep the ball in the park when we get to the ninth inning now, so he's been good."
The prototypical modern closer is hard-throwing and overpowering. The sidearm-throwing Ziegler, thusly, is the atypical modern closer. He throws submarine style sinkers that peak in velocity at 88 miles per hour while mixing in a pair of off-speed pitches once in a while. But if groundballs are what Gibson and the Diamondbacks are looking for, there may be no better pitcher in the history of the game to deliver them.
This season, Ziegler is trying to match the groundball rate record (75.5%) he set last season, inducing groundballs at a league-high rate of 74.7%. Since the beginning of the 2011 season, no one has come close to coaxing grounders as frequently as Ziegler has. Seventy-three percent of Ziegler pitches put into play have been on the ground. Baseball's next best rate in that category is 68.3%, held by the Atlanta Braves' Jonny Venters.
Unlike his delivery, Ziegler's personality lacks the quirks of so many closers who have come before him, even Putz and Bell.
He's, instead, extremely straightforward.
And consistently grounded.
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