So much for an improved bullpen in 2011; it seems it's just as bad as last year. What can be done to fix it at this point?
-- Roger S., Phoenix
Roger, the bullpen ERA is ugly, no question about it, but I don't think it's nearly as bad as it was last year. Keep in mind, that ERA is a bit skewed by Juan Gutierrez's struggles. Last year, there were so many leads blown late, and I don't think you've seen that this year. Certainly the back end has been much, much better. J.J. Putz has pitched well so far, as has setup man David Hernandez.
Again, I'm not saying it's the best bullpen in the league, but to me, it's nowhere near the disaster right now that it was last season. I think you will see general manager Kevin Towers make changes in short order if he feels there are better alternatives. He didn't wait long to make a change with Kam Mickolio, and I don't see him being too patient with others if they struggle. They are going to give Gutierrez a chance here to work out his mechanical issues, because they absolutely love his arm and what he is capable of doing when he's right. That being said, I'm not sure how much longer they will be able to do that, unless he turns it around in a hurry.
How come Ryan Roberts is playing so much better this year than he did last year? Is it a matter of opportunity or specific changes he made at the plate? He seems like a completely different player this year.
-- Rob N., Surprise, Ariz.
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The biggest difference for Roberts this year is in his attitude and mental approach. Last year, he came into camp thinking he had a spot on the Opening Day roster, given how well he had performed off the bench in 2009. He struggled mightily during the spring, was the final cut and that was the beginning of a long and frustrating year for him.
This past offseason, he worked extremely hard, physically, so he came into camp in probably the best shape he's ever been in. More than that, though, was the attitude that he was going to play all out all the time and have no regrets. He's talked a lot about making sure that he does everything he needs to do every day to get better and being able to be satisfied with that. An attitude like that is important over the course of a long season, because there are going to be plenty of ups and downs, and if he is truly able to avoid getting too high or too low based on them, he will put himself in the best position possible to have success.
Will Juan Miranda keep starting at first base? I know that manager Kirk Gibson said that he was going to get the majority of the playing time, but Russell Branyan has started the last two games. It seems like Branyan is the better first baseman, but I'm not sure we know what Miranda is capable of.
-- Karl C., Seattle
I think the club would really like to give Miranda a lot of playing time, just to find out how good he really is. This is a guy who has put up good numbers in the Minor Leagues, but has not gotten prolonged playing time at the big league level. However, it's got to be awfully hard for Gibson to leave Branyan out of the lineup right now, given the way he's swinging the bat.
Branyan has put together good at-bats and has supplied some nice thump in the lineup. I know there was a lot of concern about his defense this spring, but he has looked really good at first so far this year, making not just the routine plays, but some nice diving stops.
Miranda showed some pop himself with a pinch-hit homer the other night, and that has to help his confidence, but I think he will need to start hitting sooner rather than later, if he wants to continue to get playing time. One thing that works in Miranda's favor is that Branyan has had health issues in the past, particularly with his back, so Gibson is going to be wary of playing him every day.