Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 3/28/12
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Comparing Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz's 2011 spring training experience and to his 2012 experience might be a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Though Putz overcame an injury-filled spring in 2011 to have one of his best seasons, the closer is having a markedly different spring this year that could bode well in his second season with the D-backs. "I was hurt this time last year, so obviously I feel better than that," Putz said. "It's been nice being able to throw six innings this spring, being able to work on the pitches I wanted to work on and just get the work in." Putz has so far pitched four of those scheduled six innings, doubling the number of appearances he made last season. He's allowed two runs, both on solo homers, and three hits. He's scheduled to make back-to-back outings Friday and Saturday, his final outings until the start of the regular season. Simply being healthy enough to participate from the start of spring training has made all the difference. A stiff back delayed Putz's spring debut last year and finished with just 4 13 innings pitched, only 1 13 of which came in Cactus League play. He also dealt with a cut finger that required some down time to heal. "It's not like his arm was bothering him or we slow played it," D-backs pitching coach Charles Nagy said. "Little things just came up last year, freak little things." Putz, 35, typically likes to take it easy in spring, mixing in major league appearances with back-field outings to avoid injury and stay fresh for the long season. Last year, however, did not fit the plan. For Putz, spring training is less about seeing big league hitters than it is preparing his body for the year ahead. Having to take it easy with minor aches and pains made that difficult last year, but his routine has returned to normal this spring and he's made just one back-field appearance. "I just need to build my arm strength up pretty much," Putz said. "Early on in spring I was able to long toss quite a bit and start to build that foundation. We're right on track for where we need to be." D-backs manager Kirk Gibson has been pleased with Putz's healthy spring and couldn't help but sneak in a subtle jab. "He's well ahead of last year's pace," Gibson said. "He must be exhausted." Jokes aside, the D-backs couldn't be happier. Not that last year's issues impacted his season much -- he notched a career-high 45 saves in 52 appearances while posting his best ERA (2.17) since 2007 -- but with a full spring to prepare he could be even more effective in 2012. It might be hard to top 45 saves, but Putz can at least roll out his latest trick. Without any nagging irritants this spring, Putz has been able to add a cut fastball to his repertoire. In his first outing of the spring, Putz served up a cutter that Mariners outfielder Carlos Peguero sent far over the outfield wall. "He's made a couple mistakes with it," Nagy said. "It's just him getting comfortable with the release points, when to throw it to what hitters and all that stuff. It's just another weapon for him to have." The cutter is still a work in progress, but Putz said he won't hesitate to throw it right away. "I feel like it's ready," Putz said. "I'm not going to be afraid to use it. But obviously I still have my plan of how I want to pitch guys." Putz has also made a few tweaks to his workout routines. Oddly enough, a few of his new preparation techniques were inspired by D-backs prospect Trevor Bauer, who was a hot topic this spring in part due to his unusual pre-game routine. No, Putz isn't playing foul-pole-to-foul-pole long toss or firing a wild pitch full speed from the mound to start his mound warmups, but he enjoyed picking up a few ideas from the youngster. "Obviously I don't have all the knowledge he does on the things he does or the reasons he does it," Putz said. "I really enjoyed the time he was here and being able to pick his brain a little bit. He's a very smart kid, and he's very dedicated." Between his health, the cutter, new workouts and simply being able to get in games, Putz feels much better positioned for 2012, even if the D-backs would probably be thrilled to see results identical to 2011. Putz just hopes whatever he contributes helps get the D-backs deep into October. "I've put a lot of work in, just as everybody else has on this team," Putz said. "We accomplished a lot last year, but we didn't get everything done that we'd hoped for."
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