Diamondbacks survive Archie Bradley’s struggles, slip past Braves

Archie Bradley returned to the dugout, flung his hat and vented to no one in particular. Another of his outings had failed to go according to plan, the latest in what has been a disastrous second half, and in the moment on Friday night it was on the verge of costing the Diamondbacks yet another game.

As it turned out, the Diamondbacks still managed to win. Brad Ziegler reprised the fireman role in which he thrived at the beginning of the decade to escape the eighth, and fellow relievers Andrew Chafin and Brad Boxberger combined to work a clean ninth. The Diamondbacks’ 5-3 win over the Atlanta Braves felt like the kind of game they won countless times in 2017 – and the kind they’ve been losing over and over in recent weeks.

Only this time, they had to do it without the benefit of Bradley’s best work. And, until Bradley can get himself back on track, they might have to look elsewhere as they try to protect late-game leads.

“It’s a possibility, yeah, definitely a possibility,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said, when asked if Bradley might benefit from some appearances in lower-leverage situations. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to Archie, but it is a possibility.”

Diamondbacks 5, Braves 3

Bradley looked like a legitimate All-Star candidate when the break arrived in mid-July. His ERA sat at 1.97. He was striking out close to a batter per inning and holding opposing hitters to a .189 average.

And though he came to spring training with a cracked nail on his right index finger and was having trouble throwing his curveball consistently, hitters had been unable to take advantage.

That all changed, starting with his first outing after the break, a disastrous appearance against the Colorado Rockies in which Raimel Tapia connected for a go-ahead grand slam to cap a six-running inning. Two weeks later, he took a loss against the Giants after Evan Longoria hit a tie-breaking homer. The following week, he got beat on a two-run double by Tucker Barnhart.

At the heart of his issues, it seemed, was his inability to throw his breaking ball, which he used regularly as a put-away pitch last year. Bradley then tried incorporating the pitch more often, only to mixed results; last week in Los Angeles, he gave up a go-ahead three-run homer to Matt Kemp on a hanging curveball.

His outing on Friday night might not have been as bad as it looked. Entering with a 4-1 lead, he faced five hitters and allowed hits to four of them. Two of the hits, however, didn’t leave the infield.

“When you’re going through a little bit of a rough patch, it seems like the ball doesn’t bounce your way,” Bradley said. “I made good pitches, but they just beat me. Zig came in and picked me up and we won a game.”

Lovullo’s willingness to consider other options is understandable, what with Bradley having allowed 17 runs in his past 18 2/3 innings. On Friday, he gave up a single to Ronald Acuna Jr. on a first-pitch fastball to open his outing, then couldn’t put away Johan Camargo, who slapped a two-strike fastball into left field for a run-scoring double.

“What I’m seeing (from Bradley) is maybe lack of execution at crucial times with that final pitch to finish off a hitter,” Lovullo said. “He’s used to punching guys out with certain types of pitches, but I don’t think we’ve seen that as often as we had in the first half of the season.”

Ziegler entered with the bases loaded and one out and proceeded to get a double-play ball from Ozzie Albies only to watch as shortstop Nick Ahmed couldn’t handle the feed from second baseman Ketel Marte. That allowed a run to score, cutting the Diamondbacks’ lead to 4-3. Ziegler recovered by striking out Adam Duvall and getting Dansby Swanson to fly innocuously to center to end the inning.

Though Ziegler would be a natural to step into Bradley’s role for the time being – as would lefty Jake Diekman, the club’s other trade-deadline bullpen addition who has thrown well in recent outings – Lovullo said Ziegler has told him he’s ready for just about any situation.

“He said, ‘Just tell me if I’m going to be in the game before the fourth inning so I can change my routine,’” Lovullo recalled.

The Diamondbacks, of course, are at their best with a dominant Bradley, a sight they hope they’ll be seeing again soon – regardless of his role in the coming days.

“I’ve seen Archie be the best reliever in baseball at times through stretches,” Ziegler said. “We know it’s just a matter of time and that switch is going to flip and he might be right back to that guy in his next outing.”

Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or nick.piecoro@arizonarepublic.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.

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