First, some thoughts on last night's Arizona-Colorado game: yes, I'm aware that the Diamondbacks walked in the winning run, but wow are these two filthy bullpens. Manny Corpas of the Rockies throws a good fastball and a pitch that comes in at about 79 MPH and dips like crazy. (We were arguing last night in the bar about what to call it - I called it a slider, and I was right, even though it mostly moves vertically rather than semi-horizontally like a lot of sliders do.) Then they've got Brian Fuentes, who's had a tremendous career despite spending all of it in pitcher hell, and who throws harder than you'd expect a guy to throw with the arm angles he gets. LaTroy Hawkins has great stuff too.
And Arizona's bullpen! I mean, wow. I suspect that TBS's radar gun last night may have been a little optimistic, but Tony Pena threw ten pitches in his first inning, all for strikes, and according to their gun, he was throwing 98 MPH fastballs and 89 MPH sliders. He was ridiculous. He has the most impressive stuff of any rookie reliever I can recall seeing this year except Joba Chamberlain. I have no idea how Pena only struck out 63 batters in 85 innings this year. Then they've got Juan Cruz, who has a huge fastball and finally seemed to put it all together this year, recording the highest K/9 of any pitcher who threw more than 60 innings. And then there's Valverde, who struck out 78 batters in 64 innings this year.
Of all these guys, Hawkins and Fuentes are making the most, at $3.5 million each in 2007. The Diamondbacks aren't paying any of their current relievers more than $2 million this year.
So how do you get relievers like this? Well, you can develop them, like the Diamondbacks did with Valverde and Pena. But another way is to trade for them, which is what the Diamondbacks did with Cruz. They got him from Oakland for the mediocre Brad Halsey. Cruz was a former top prospect with the Cubs and was known for his blazing stuff, but he'd only really put it all together in his 2004 season with Atlanta.
The Diamondbacks appear to believe that with good coaching, you can get a lot of mileage out of talented players other teams give up on. Two trades they made earlier this season could pay Cruz-like dividends for them in the future.
They dealt Jorge Julio, who's also a talented pitcher who actually wound up pitching pretty decently the Rockies for most of this year, from Florida for the 22-year-old starter Yusmeiro Petit, who the Marlins soured on after a disappointing season at Class AAA Albuquerque. Petit continued to struggle a little at Arizona's Class AAA team in Tucson (Tucson and Albuquerque are probably two of the craziest hitters' parks in the minor leagues), but he pitched reasonably well in 57 innings for the Diamondbacks.
They also dealt Chris Carter, a blocked first baseman with stats that look decent because of the crazy hitting environment in Tucson, for Emiliano Fruto, another young pitcher who the Nationals got sick of after he struggled at Class AAA Columbus. Fruto has a good fastball and a terrific changeup and curve and could eventually be used as a starter. He's only 23 and still has a good shot at a solid big-league career.
Don't be surprised if Fruto and Petit play important roles for the Diamondbacks when they're in the playoffs again three or four years from now. By then, they'll still be cheap, and Valverde and Cruz will have moved on.
Anyway, the Rockies and D'Backs don't play tonight. It's Fausto Carmona and Curt Schilling tonight at 8:07 in Boston and on FOX.