For so many weeks this season, J.D. Droddy had to play the balancing act of tightrope walker.
With only 22 players on the roster — 11 position players and 11 pitchers — the Tucson Saguaros manager lived on perpetually thin ice. Managing a bullpen of six with the looming threat of losing a player to a higher league turns hairs gray.
Finally, on July 12, Droddy got a reprieve: roster expansion. The Saguaros were permitted to increase their roster to 24 players, and Droddy picked up two new arms.
The Saguaros (44-13) now head into the stretch run — their final homestand of the season this weekend at Kino Stadium against the Salina Stockade, including one final Sunday matchup in Bisbee — winners of 11 straight and once more on a roll.
“Some guys would have to pitch three, four days in a row, and we were dragging a little bit,” reliever Tyler Herr said. “But even if we were dragging, we’d come along, step in and get our job done, put a little pep in our step. Now we have more guys to get it done.”
“We were very light in the bullpen,” Droddy added. “Some guys left — our closer Daniel Hurtado went to Japan — and a couple guys were just not throwing well. But there’s always a shortage of some sort.”
Not so much these days. Herr, the team’s newly minted closer, is rounding into form, and recent college graduate Matt Kelley has provided some much-needed depth.
Herr, a Pecos League veteran, struggled earlier this season in the American Association before being released. Droddy persuaded him to spurn a better-paying offer from the Pacific Association, and after just a couple weeks with Tucson pitching coach Ben Baker, Herr was back up in the mid-90s and found his groove again. He hasn’t allowed a run since June 28.
“I knew that Tyler could do better than that,” Droddy said. “Tyler’s beaten me before. I know what he can do. He came to us for less money because he knew we’d use him.”
Herr’s noticed a difference in the pitching staff since the roster expansion, as well. The increased maneuverability leads to a chess match, which the Saguaros have often won.
“Since we’ve brought new guys in, there’s a difference of good matchups we can have,” Herr said. “Guys are coming in and getting the job done.”
When needed, that is, seeing as the Saguaros outscored the opponent 51-27 from Sunday-Tuesday this week.
Last week, though, was another story.
Tucson scored four runs each in three different games last week, winning twice 4-3 and once 4-2, in addition to a 7-2 win over Alpine.
“Once we’re able to get into the pen, it’s basically locked in for a win,” said Kelley, who just finished his college career at Francis Marion University in South Carolina but went undrafted before signing with Tucson. “With how many guys we have in the pen, we can throw whoever we need to. It’s made it a lot easier knowing any of us go.”
Added Herr: “There are certain guys who are red hot right now, and when they go in, J.D. has the total faith in them. I think the pressure on J.D. is off a little bit because he has that flexibility.”