Unconventional closer Ziegler still gets job done
Submariner mirrors style of former Kansas City reliever Quisenberry
PHOENIX -- In 1984, when he was just a boy, Brad Ziegler moved to Kansas City with his family and quickly became a Royals fan. A year later, he watched as the Royals, led by closer Dan Quisenberry, beat the Cardinals in the World Series.
While Ziegler certainly enjoyed watching Quisenberry pitch with his unique submarine-style arm angle, he never thought of him as a role model for a future career.
"The '85 Royals, we had just moved to Kansas City in '84, I was 5 or 6 years old at the time, so it wasn't like I was old enough to emulate him or anything like that, but I did watch him," Ziegler said.
Ziegler switched from a starting pitcher with a three-quarters arm angle to a submariner in 2007, transforming himself from a fringe big league starter to a quality Major League reliever. He burst on the scene with the A's in record-breaking fashion in '08, not giving up a run in his first 39 big league innings to quickly become one of the game's better setup men.
Last season, Ziegler led all relievers in inducing double plays with 21, the most since Doug Sisk reached the same number for the Orioles in 1988. He became the pitcher D-backs manager Kirk Gibson turned to when there were men on base and a double play was required.
This year, after watching closer J.J. Putz go down with an injury and fellow relievers Heath Bell and David Hernandez struggle, Gibson turned to Ziegler to fill the closer's role.
Quisenberry led the American League in saves from 1982-85, and another submariner, Kent Tekulve, served as the Pirates closer in that same era. Neither of them were strikeout pitchers, which is usually what teams look for these days from their closer.
"Back in the day, the Dan Quisenberrys and the Kent Tekulves, there were a lot of guys that did that," Gibson said. "Not so much anymore."
But with the D-backs closers giving up home runs, Gibson liked the fact that Ziegler keeps the ball on the ground, and therefore in the ballpark. Given the D-backs outstanding defense this year, Gibson is comfortable taking his chances with balls put in play.
Since taking over the closer's role, Ziegler, who picked up an extra-innings save earlier this year, is 5-for-5 in save opportunities. He's thrown seven innings and struck out just four, but has not walked a batter or allowed a run.
"He's been good and he's handled the pressure pretty good," Gibson said. "He's kept the ball on the ground. That's kind of what we were thinking."
One of the keys to Ziegler being able to close effectively is his improvement against left-handed hitters.
After last season, lefties owned an average better than .300 against Ziegler in his career. In order to better his chances against lefties, Ziegler spent the offseason and Spring Training working on rediscovering his changeup to give him another weapon in addition to his fastball and slider.
Ziegler lost his feel for the changeup some time in 2009, no longer able to throw it for a strike.
"The changeup, even the last few years, has always had good movement to it, but it was the command that was the problem," Ziegler said. "One of the issues I had with it last year is it was always falling out into the right-handed batter's box. So to a left-handed hitter, it was never in the zone, it was never over the plate. It was always starting out outside and moving further out. So it wasn't even a pitch they had to honor. It was just kind of a show pitch, but I wanted to make it more of a pitch that they had to respect, that they had to occasionally swing at, and hopefully not do a whole lot with it when they hit it."
So far, so good on that front.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.