Archie Bradley has pitched in nearly every role for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season, and unfortunately for the former Broken Arrow star and five-year MLB veteran, it’s not because he has been particularly effective on the hill.
Bradley has been featured out of the bullpen in the middle innings, as a set-up man and as a closer at different points in 2019, giving up 40 hits and 20 runs in 36⅔ innings in his various relief roles. When he made a start against the Washington Nationals on June 16, the 26-year-old right-hander allowed four runs and walked two before being pulled after just 1⅓ innings.
As the MLB season inches toward its midseason All-Star break this week, Bradley owns an ERA of 5.21 and 2-4 record in 34 appearances, including one start.
Less than two years removed from being one of the most feared relief pitchers in baseball, the Muskogee native is now searching for answers, coping with struggles on the mound while seeking to regain his form.
“It’s been a weird year,” Bradley told the Tulsa World in a phone interview earlier this week. “At the end of the day, I just need to pitch better.”
It’s now been more than eight years since Bradley was selected by the Diamondbacks with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2011 draft. He led the Tigers to the Class 6A state title in his senior year at Broken Arrow before choosing to forgo a commitment to play baseball and football at Oklahoma, and he soon shot up through Arizona’s minor league system.
After making his major league debut in 2015, Bradley alternated between the starting rotation and the bullpen, but he found success in each role in which he was placed. His best year to date came in 2017 when he emerged as a lockdown set-up man for a Diamondbacks team that reached the National League Division Series. Bradley recorded a 1.73 ERA in 63 appearances that season.
But the 2018 season and the first half of 2019 have not been so kind to Bradley and he has struggled to regain his footing and his place in Arizona. In diagnosing the cause of his setbacks, Bradley identified changes in his pitching mechanics and his delivery, as well as a tendency to fall behind batters as the source of his troubles.
This spring in particular, he noticed that he was releasing the ball higher than he should be and had been in the past and that it was affecting the accuracy and location on his pitches. With that, Bradley found himself throwing far more balls than strikes, falling behind in the count and issuing more walks — 22 through Wednesday — than he has in any other full season as a reliever.
On top of the walks, the ball-heavy counts have provided opposing hitters an advantage, and they’re batting nearly .300 against Bradley this season.
The big-bearded fireballer said he knows what he has been doing wrong, and with that knowledge now feels hopeful that the awareness will help spark a change.
“With all that, I’m just trying to throw more strikes and get ahead early in counts,” Bradley said. “When I can control the counts, I really have success. I’ve really just walked too many guys this year.”
For Bradley, the most challenging aspect of showing up to the ballpark each day has been maintaining positivity in the face of the uncertainty that has cloaked his season. Baseball, he knows, is a results-driven game and that’s what makes it all the more difficult when Bradley feels he has made the right pitch but still gets beaten by an opposing hitter.
That reality — one of seeing the boxscore continue to fill up with disappointing numbers even on nights he feels like he pitched well — has forced Bradley to find the good in his performances and gain confidence even when the stats line wouldn’t suggest a constructive outing.
“There are times where you do things the right way and you just don’t get the outcome that you’re looking for,” Bradley said. “I’ve worked on staying positive and continuing to work knowing that you I’m improving even if the results aren’t there.”
For all the struggles, the results are beginning to show for Bradley — he has struck out three batters over three scoreless innings in his past two appearances.
The first half of the 2019 season has been far from what Bradley hoped it would be, but the pitcher who once went toe-to-toe with fellow major leaguer Dylan Bundy in the 6A state tournament is trending in the right direction and believes he can bring more to the table in Arizona over the final three months of the season.
Bradley has spent too much time in the game to set statistics-based goals or place heavy importance on individual achievements over team success, so he doesn’t have a specific number or objective in mind to reach during the second half. Rather, he just wants to achieve consistency through July, August and September, in both his pitches and his overall performances.
For Bradley, who is set to enter arbitration this offseason, that would constitute a success.
“I’ve had a few hiccups here and there,” Bradley said. “But I’ve started to throw the ball better over the past few weeks and I think good things lie ahead for me.”