February 2010

Friday scribblings from D-backs camp

A little bit of a late start for the D-backs today as they had their annual meeting with the Players Association in the morning.

– Tony Abreu left camp on Friday to attend to a family issue, but is not expected to miss much time and could be back as soon as Saturday.

– Brandon Webb had a “really good” long-toss session Friday according to pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.

One of the issues that Webb has faced in his comeback is getting his timing/mechanics down. One trick that Stottlemyre tried with him Friday that paid dividends was rolling the ball to him before he threw, that way he had his feet moving and that prompted him to get his arm up and into the right position quicker.

All three bullpen sessions Webb has thrown so far this spring have been separate from his teammates, but he’s feeling good enough now that he’s going to throw his next session Sunday with the other pitchers.

– Third baseman Mark Reynolds and outfielder Justin Upton wore wireless mics for a Major League Baseball Productions feature.

“I don’t think I’ve said anything interesting,” Reynolds said near the end of the workout.

– Dan Haren looked sharp while throwing a live batting practice session.

“He was painting as usual,” Reynolds said alluding to Haren’s pinpoint control even this early in camp.

For Haren the session helped jump start where his progress this spring.

“I was getting to a lull period where I was getting to the point where I needed to be,” Haren said. “It’s amazing you get a hitter standing in there and the adrenaline pumping and everything seemed right. I’m happy with the way today went.”

Each year Haren tries to work on something to improve and try and get better. One thing is trying to improve his second halves which have caused him some issues the past couple of years.

“I’m going to do a little more maintenance stuff during the season and try to be better toward the end,” Haren said. “Hopefully I’ll get off to a good start, I’ve had the ability to do that the last few years and just keep that momentum throughout and hopefully come the second half we’re playing for something and that always makes it easier.”

That Haren has had some good stretches in the second half is proof to him that it’s not a physical issue.

“It’s definitely not a fatigue thing,” he said. “It’s the ability to bounce back after a rough one and some of it can be mental more than physical because my stuff is there at the end of the year. You get hit around one or two times in the big leagues it’s not easy to get out there that third time. You lose a little bit of confidence.”

A few notes from Thursday’s workout

Just a few extra notes from D-backs camp today…

– D-backs manager A.J. Hinch was impressed with what he saw out of pitchers Billy Buckner, Jordan Norberto and Kevin Mulvey while they were throwing live batting practice Thursday.

“Ball is coming out of his hand pretty well,” Hinch said of Mulvey. “He looks like his arm is in good shape.

“Buckner and Norberto probably threw the best two live BP sessions,” Hinch said.

– Norberto also caught the eye of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr.

“Command, life, breaking ball, changeup, everything was in a tight zone,” Stottlemyre said. “He has a little different look to him this year in terms of confidence.”

Another young player that impressed was Bryan Shaw, a right-hander who was the club’s second-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.

“Bryan Shaw really got his lower half in control, everything was down with good life,” Stottlemyre said. “It was good to see because he gets himself in trouble when he gets too quick, but we’ve been working on it and he carried it in today.”

– Clay Zavada threw some good curveballs during his batting practice session. His intensity during the session drew laughs from his teammates. Whether it’s batting practice or not, Zavada treats every time on the mound like it’s Game 7 of the World Series.

Talking baseball gloves

Some baseball players will use their gloves for years. Shortstop Stephen Drew was oiling down his game glove Thursday morning, because if he doesn’t the six-year-old glove will crack. In fact, there are some cracks and even holes in it, but it’s broken in just the way he likes it and so he’s not changing.

It’s a little different for Chris Snyder. As a catcher his gloves take more abuse than any others so he switches his gloves out each year.

Snyder has two gloves he keeps ready (see pictures below).  He has his game glove, which he typically starts using in August of a season and his backup which bullpen catcher Jeff Motuzas helps him break in so that it’s ready to take over in August.

Snyder oils his gloves more than most people do, which makes them very soft.

“Some pitchers complain that my glove doesn’t pop when the ball hits it,” Snyder said.

Count Dan Haren among the group that teases Snyder for that.

“It’s like a Tempur-Pedic pillow,” Haren said of the glove.

Here’s Snyder’s gamer glove and below it a look at both gloves, the new one on the left.

Snyder gamer glove.JPG

Snyder 2 gloves.JPG

Randy Johnson, season tickets and competition

Busy day in D-backsland today with the club’s first full-squad workout. That meant a long meeting before practice could get underway with various team executives addressing the team.

We got a chance to talk to managing general partner Ken Kendrick and team president and CEO Derrick Hall following the meeting. Below are what they had to say on a variety of topics:

– On former D-backs great Randy Johnson, who announced his retirement last month:

Johnson is scheduled to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day in Seattle this year and Hall was asked if the D-backs had similar plans.

“We plan on doing something [to honor] him,” Hall said. “Definitely a first pitch. We look at having a special night in tribute for him just as we still owe [Luis Gonzalez] one. We’re starting to do just that, to make plans to do something like that for both of them.”

Johnson has a personal services part of his contract to work for the D-backs and Hall said he has had a couple of discussions with Johnson about that.

“The relationship is good,” Hall said. “We’ve had a few conversations. He’s definitely interested and wants to come back and work for us and we both agreed let’s take that first year off and clear your head. It’s been a long, successful career for him and he wants to spend some time with his family and when he’s ready to come back we’re going to find the perfect fit for him.”

– On Season Tickets:

“We’re doing OK,” Hall said. “We’ve added about 2,000 new season ticket holders and that’s really a response to some of the moves that we made. Our renewal was mid-to-upper 70s, which we expected after the tough season and the economy. The feedback that we heard from those fans that couldn’t return was it wasn’t so much about the results of last season it was more so the economy and they want to come back when they can.”

The D-backs were around 15,000 season ticket holders two years ago and with the economic crisis later that year they fell off to 13,000 last year, but rebounded back to around 15,000 this year.

“We want to get to the point where we’re consistently drawing three million [a year], which is an average of 37,000 fans and last year we were still below 30,000 on average,” Hall said. Over two million is where we’re hoping to be next year and I’m confident that we will. “We need to build that [season ticket] base and have it grow so we can have that foundation and get to three million.

– Hinch’s talk with the team before the workout:

Optimism is the watchword of camp this year, but closely behind that is competition. That was one of the points Hinch hit on during his talk to the team.

“Competitiveness is good on a roster,” he said. “There’s plenty of competition for the starting rotation. I think there some guys that have legs up, but over my time in baseball there are guys that have come into camp penciled into the rotation or on the roster that have played their way off. Guys that we are not even talking about could inch their way towards the roster.”

Quote of the day:

Hinch was asked how happy Conor Jackson must be to be healthy after missing most of last season with Valley Fever.

“He’s probably the happiest guy in camp to be back on the field,” Hinch said. “Second to me. I’ll put myself ahead of him.”

Tuesday scribblings from D-backs camp

Here are a few notes from today:

Well, what do you know, the sun came out today in Arizona and it actually felt like Spring Training again. With that in mind, here are some notes from today:

– I’ll write more in detail about this in the next few days, but closer Chad Qualls has looked very good so far this spring from a health standpoint and that’s great news for the D-backs.

Qualls dislocated his left knee at the end of August and eventually had to have surgery. He puts a lot of pressure and torque on his left leg in his delivery and so far it has given him no problems this spring.

It usually takes Qualls a little while to get going during camp, but GM Josh Byrnes said today, “He looks sharp right now.”

– Found out something interesting about Rule 5 draftee Zach Kroenke. Since this is the second year in a row as a Rule 5 pick (last year the Marlins took him and sent him back to the Yankees in March) the his situation is different than most Rule 5ers.

If the D-backs decide to take him off the 25-man roster at some point this year and he clears waivers he can choose to become a free agent rather than be offered back to the Yankees as is the case with most Rule 5 picks.

– Speaking of rules and contracts, none of the D-backs non-roster invitees have opt-out clauses in their contracts that would allow them to be free agents if they do not make the team. That includes veteran Rodrigo Lopez who is a candidate for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

– D-backs manager A.J. Hinch is anxious for Wednesday’s first full-squad workout. There’s been so much buildup about the fresh start and what it means coming on the heels of last season that Hinch said it will finally feel real when the whole club is in place.

Would like to be a fly on the wall for his talk to the team Wednesday as he said he is going to try and set the tone for the season.

– Each camp there’s a player that seems to generate buzz. Early in camp this year it’s left-hander Jordan Norberto who has drawn praise from both Byrnes and Hinch.

Judging by the way the staff has been talking about Norberto he could see time at the big league level this year if he is able to harness is outstanding mid-to-upper 90s fastball.

Monday morning notes from the Clubhouse

The D-backs are hoping that Mother Nature cooperates today as they will hurry to try and get their workout in before the expected rains come.

Pretty quiet in the clubhouse this morning with guys starting to settle into the routine of Spring Training.

Catcher Chris Snyder spent some time talking with special instructor Mel Stottlemyre Sr. and afterwards I asked him about the value of having the former big league pitching coach in camp.

“Unbelievable,” Snyder said. “Having him around is a learning experience for everyone. When you think of great pitching coaches in the game he’s got to be one of the first that comes to mind.”

Stottlemyre is the father of former D-backs pitcher Todd and current pitching coach Mel Jr.

After pitchers throw their bullpen sessions here in camp, the catchers will generally meet them halfway between the mound and plate to assess their performance with the catchers giving feedback on mechanics, location, movement etc.

“When [Stottlemyre Sr.] is involved in one of those and he’s talking, you’re quiet,” Snyder said. “You just take in his knowledge.”

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Lefty Clay Zavada, whose rise to the big leagues last year was a great story, has a locker this year more befitting of a Major Leaguer than he did last year.

In 2009, he was on the side of the clubhouse typically reserved for Minor Leaguers on the 40-man roster and non-roster invitees. This year he has a locker on the on a corner next to the bat rack.

“I don’t care where they put me,” Zavada said when I pointed out his new digs. “They could make me dress in a shack outside and I would still be happy as long as they gave me a uniform.”

It’s just another example of why it’s refreshing to spend time talking with him.

Catching conundrum for D-backs

So here we are again, heading into another season with the D-backs essentially having two starting catchers.

At the end of last season it seemed all but certain that Chris Snyder would not be in Tucson when Spring Training started.

“Surprised to see me?” he asked to me by way of a greeting the other day.

Actually, I was.

The D-backs nearly traded Snyder to the Blue Jays for first baseman Lyle Overbay in November, but the Jays backed out at the last minute.

So far, Snyder looks completely recovered from last September’s back surgery and it’s also clear he’s going to push Miguel Montero, who took over the starting job last year following Snyder’s injury, for playing time.

“I think A.J. and the staff will determine how best to use those guys,” GM Josh Byrnes said referring to manager A.J. Hinch and his coaches. “We clearly have two No. 1 caliber catchers so we’ll figure it out as we go.”

Montero hits left-handed and Snyder right-handed, but it won’t be a true platoon.

“Miggy showed last year he can hit left-handed pitching and Snydes in 2008 hit right-handed pitching very well so it won’t be as simple as that,” Byrnes said.

And it also looks like the D-backs are not going to deal Snyder at least any time soon.

“That’s our assumption right now,” Byrnes said. “Obviously we had those discussions and made an attempt early and there is a point at which it becomes less realistic. So right now I think it’s prudent to assume that’s going to be our catching combination.”

Now it falls on Hinch to figure out how to keep both catchers happy and productive.

“It’s something I’m going to have to sort out playing time wise over the season,” Hinch said. “But to go in strong, to go in healthy…to me I have no complaints. I never have a problem with too many good guys.”

For the latest information on the D-backs follow me on Twitter.

Sunday AM Notes from the clubhouse

A couple of notes before the D-backs begin their workout on Sunday morning…

– Outfielder Conor Jackson was getting some teasing from some of his teammates for the model bat he was using.

Jackson prefers a bat that has a thicker handle, while most players today tend to like thin handles with big barrels.

“If you have a big barrel it slows you down through the strike zone,” Jackson said. “I feel like my bat stays in the zone longer with a thicker handle.”

Of course the advantage of a bigger barrel is you can get more backspin on a ball, which is where the home runs come from, but that’s never been Jackson’s game.

“Have to know your strengths,” he said.

– Talked briefly with Justin Upton on Saturday. He’s breaking in his glove a little differently this year. Instead of having the last couple of fingers in the glove being bent out a little bit — like Alex Romero’s glove was — he’s got it a little more closed — think about closing the glove with the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinky finger and you’ll get the idea.

Doing it this way, he hopes, will make for a deeper pocket in the glove.

Saturday scribblings from D-backs Camp

It was like the first day of school in the D-backs’ clubhouse Saturday morning prior to the initial pitcher/catcher workout of the spring.

A quick note  and a couple of photos before heading over to watch the workout:

– Blaine Boyer has lost 22 pounds and 12 percent body fat since the end of last season and looks like he’s in outstanding shape.

Below are a couple of photos. I know they are not great, but I’m using my Blackberry to take them so hang with me.

Upton Locker 2-20.JPG

Haven’t see Justin Upton yet, but as you can tell from his locker (the one in the middle) he has plenty of new equipment waiting for him.

Attitude 2-20.JPG

A new addition to the schedule bulletin board this year was this quote about attitude.

Friday notes from D-backs camp

Somewhat quiet day at Tucson Electric Park on Friday with players trickling in as the day went on. The first workout for pitchers and catchers is not until Saturday so players do not have to be at TEP until that time.

Here are a few notes:

– Miguel Montero was his usual entertaining self. He spent part of the morning teasing Rusty Ryal about his play in Venezuela over the winter and also recounted for reporters his offseason travels.

I’ll definitely follow up on this at some point this spring, but Montero visited the Canary Islands, Barcelona, Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, Amsterdam and Madrid.

Miggy played some first base towards the end of the Winter League season because he wanted to get in some game activity without going behind the plate. You may recall that in prior years he has injured his finger and knee while catching over the winter.

Don’t look for him to be wearing a first baseman’s glove for the D-backs any time soon, though. He said he struggled a bit over there and called the position “boring.”

– Veteran reliever Bob Howry met some of his teammates for the first time.

Interestingly for a guy that has played parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues Howry has never played with any of the D-backs players before. Of course, he pointed out that a big reason for that is that the Arizona roster is a very young one with a lot of the guys not having played for a different organization before.

When it comes to roles in the bullpen, Howry said he was told he would be able to compete for late-inning work setting up closer Chad Qualls.

D-backs manager A.J. Hinch echoed that during his meeting with the media when he said that Howry, Juan Gutierrez and Aaron Heilman were front-runners for late-inning work.

Note that late-inning work will not come in the ninth with Hinch saying again that Qualls is his closer.

– Edwin Jackson, who took over Doug Davis’ old locker in the clubhouse at TEP said he was happy to have avoided arbitration last weekend when he signed a two-year deal that will take him up to free agency after the 2011 season.

– Billy Buckner is the frontrunner for the No. 5 spot in the rotation, but told us he knows he has to have a good spring in order to win it.

The key for Buckner, as always, will be for him to stay aggressive, pound the strike zone and be confident on the mound. He’s also going to continue to incorporate his cut fastball.

– Finally a funny story that Hinch told when he was asked about Jackson, who pitched for the Tigers and Jim Leyland last season.

“He told me that I just needed to put him in the rotation and go have smoke and then come back six or seven innings later,” Hinch said of Leyland a notorious smoker. “I told him I had a little problem with that — I don’t smoke.”

Will have lots more tomorrow and as always for the latest updates, follow me on Twitter.

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