PHOENIX — The Arizona Diamondbacks were not expecting perfection from closer Brad Boxberger, even though members of their front office had seen exactly that several years before.
Boxberger, back in the closer’s role, converted his 21st save opportunity in Arizona’s 3-1 victory over San Diego in the second game of a four-game series Friday. He is fifth in the league in saves, and his 84 percent conversion rate ranks near the top among his peers.
He came to Arizona after an eye-popping eyeball test. Boxberger is having the sort of success that general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo might have envisioned when they acquired him in a deal with Tampa Bay over the winter.
It is the sort of work they saw first-hand while in Boston during Boxberger’s 41-save season with the Rays in 2015. Boxberger faced the Red Sox 11 times that season and was just about flawless. He did not allow a run while going 2-0 with six saves. He gave up five hits, all singles, and three walks while striking out 17 in 10 1/3 innings. Opposing hitters’ slash line: .143/.143/.211.
Let’s keep reliving this moment for @JoeyFuego44 👏
Lucchesi’s first career hit & first career run! #LetsGoPadres pic.twitter.com/Mey1JTNVG8
— FOX Sports San Diego (@FOXSportsSD) July 7, 2018
The D-backs felt they acquired him at just the right time this offseason, after he spent the previous two seasons working through adductor, oblique and flexor muscle injuries.
“We felt he was on the up elevator when it came to health,” said Lovullo, the bench coach in Boston from 2013-16. “We knew a healthy Brad Boxberger is going to be a very, very good closer for us.”
Like Fernando Rodney last season, Boxberger has a fastball/changeup repertoire, a combination that has enabled him to log 41 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings. Unlike Rodney, there is less drama.
“I’ve seen it very good,” Lovullo said, “and I’ve seen it in live action on major league fields and I’ve heard major league hitters come back to the dugout talking about it. I know it creates a lot of discomfort for hitters.”
Arizona left-hander Robbie Ray is scheduled to oppose San Diego right-hander Tyson Ross in the third game of the series Saturday night.
“There is nothing like those last three outs in the game,” Boxberger said “There is a lot of stuff that can happen. It is just a matter of being able to control that situation. Whatever happens, to be able to control it and shut the game down.
“The more time you do something, the more comfortable you get at it. Pitching in any back-end situation is going to have its high leverage and stress situations. It is just a matter of keeping a level head and manage your ability to get the hitter out.”
San Diego won the first game of the series with Wil Myers getting two hits and driving in two runs, but Myers was given a start off Friday after playing 13 consecutive games following his return from the disabled list June 21. He missed 47 games with a strained muscle in his side.
Myers is hitting .261 with a homer and eight RBIs since his return, and he has four two-hit games in his last eight. He homered last Saturday, tripled Thursday and also has three walks in the last four games.
“He’s getting more and more comfortable,” San Diego manager Andy Green said. “The 3-2 walks he had (in Oakland on Wednesday) were really good signs. They were battle at-bats, and the confidence to take close borderline pitches, that they are balls. I think when guys see the ball well, they eventually start hitting the ball well. He’s had good swings periodically. He hasn’t been in his groove or his rhythm. He’s been solid. We are waiting for him to be spectacular.”
Ray, 3-1 with a 4.89 ERA, will make his third start since returning from an oblique injury. He gave up six runs and nine hits in five innings to St. Louis in his only loss Monday. The Cardinals scored four runs in the first inning.
“They were swinging early,” said Ray, who hinted that he might have been tipping his pitches. “I don’t know if they had something that they saw. I just have to do a better job.”
Ray is 4-4 with a 3.98 ERA in nine career starts against the Padres.
Ross (5-6, 3.78 ERA) took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of his start April 20 at Chase Field, a game the Padres won but in which he did not receive a decision. He is 4-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 14 career appearances, including 13 starts, against Arizona.