Arizona Diamondbacks’ bullpen stabilized after acquisition of closer Paul Sewald

Paul Sewald found himself wedged between teammates, searching for a quiet corner amidst the euphoric celebration in the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse. It was the third celebration of an incredible season, but Sewald craved a moment of solitude. He finally discovered a dry spot where he could stand alone for a few minutes, clutching a Budweiser and basking in the moment.

“I still can’t believe this is happening to me,” Sewald expressed moments later. His black National League Championship Series shirt was already drenched, evidence that his brief moment of tranquility was shattered when bullpen coach Mike Fetters sneaked up from behind and doused him with champagne.

“I just try to savor these moments,” Sewald reflected. “I don’t need photographs or anything like that. I just need to be present.”

As he stood there, observing the revelry, his mind wandered back to last October. During the American League Division Series, when Sewald’s Mariners faced the Astros in Houston, his wife Molly stayed at home to care for their one-year-old daughter, Chloe. Sewald’s performance in Game 1 contributed to a blown save, setting the tone for an Astros’ sweep.

“I had to endure the consequences,” Sewald lamented. “Throughout the offseason, people would go on about how I couldn’t perform in the postseason.”

This year, his wife and daughter attended every playoff game. Although Sewald doubted that Chloe would remember any of it – “she was engrossed in her iPad during my games,” he chuckled earlier in the week – their mere presence meant the world to him. After each save, he places a hand over his heart and points towards them, wherever they may be seated. While they watch from home during the regular season, he directs his attention to the center-field camera, although it’s not quite the same.

For a significant portion of the season, Sewald wasn’t certain if he would get the chance at redemption. In July, the Mariners were below .500 and barely on the fringes of postseason contention.

The idea that he might be traded slowly seeped into Sewald’s mind. However, even if it meant returning to October, he was reluctant to leave Seattle. After three years there, he had grown from a marginal major leaguer to a reliable closer.

“Leaving your comfort zone is never easy,” Sewald confessed. “I had become extremely comfortable in Seattle.”

When the trade finally happened, it was a welcome landing spot. Sewald’s wife and brother had attended Arizona State University, and they had friends in the Phoenix area. They had always enjoyed their trips to Phoenix for spring training.

On the other hand, Seattle was still home. As the Diamondbacks lost their first nine games following his arrival, Sewald couldn’t help but constantly check the out-of-town scoreboards to see how his former teammates were doing. The answer was always victories. In the initial four weeks after the trade deadline, the Mariners boasted a record of 20-4.

Adding to the frustration, Sewald’s own performance began to decline. In August, he recorded a 4.66 ERA and issued seven walks in just 9 2/3 innings. His slider, an important pitch for him, completely eluded his grasp. “When you rely on only two pitches,” Sewald explained, “it becomes incredibly tough.” Recovering his lost form proved to be a challenging process. As a reliever, there are restrictions on how many pitches he can throw in a day to regain his touch.

“It was giving him trouble and posing various challenges,” pitching coach Brent Strom revealed. “We made a minor adjustment… I suggested he tweak his grip, and the spin came back.”

Once Sewald reacquainted himself with his slider, he transformed into the pitcher the Diamondbacks had envisioned when they traded for him. Including his playoff appearances, he has recorded a 1.50 ERA since the start of September, accumulating 13 strikeouts and only three walks across 12 innings.

The impact has been twofold. Sewald has successfully converted all of his ten save opportunities during this period. Simultaneously, the rest of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen has solidified into specific roles. Kevin Ginkel handles the eighth inning, Ryan Thompson acts as the primary option in high-pressure situations in the seventh, Andrew Saalfrank and Joe Mantiply are entrusted to face left-handed batters, while Miguel Castro provides early inning relief against righties.

Arizona Diamondbacks relief pitcher Paul Sewald celebrates after the final out of Game 2 of their National League wildcard baseball series against the Milwaukee Brewers Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in Milwaukee. The Diamondbacks won 5-2 to win the series. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

“(The trade) allowed for stability to happen around that,” General Manager Mike Hazen explained. While it wasn’t the primary reason for the trade – “The main goal was to acquire a closer,” Hazen clarified – it provided an additional advantage.

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