March 2010

D-backs hoping Mother Nature lets them play

The D-backs may have to battle Mother Nature on Thursday in addition to the Royals and Brewers.

Rain is forecast for the Valley throughout the day.

“What a terrible day for that too, we’re going to be all spread out all over the Valley,” D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said. “We’ve completely changed their workout across the street, Minor Leagues, and taken a lot of players for our benefit. Split squad late in the spring isn’t my favorite anyway.”

Edwin Jackson is slated to start against the Royals in Surprise, while Ian Kennedy is scheduled against the Brewers in Maryvale.

It’s important that Jackson in particular gets his work in. The right-hander is supposed to start Tuesday against the Padres so for him to stay on his regular turn he would need to throw Thursday.

Jackson’s regular turn would have been Wednesday, but Hinch did not want to give the Rockies an extra look at him so he was pushed to Thursday.

It is somewhat less urgent that Kennedy pitch, because he has an extra day built in to his schedule so he could pitch Friday and still be on regular rest for his first start of the regular season Wednesday.

“I’d like to keep Kennedy going,” Hinch said. “He’s on a roll. I’d like Jackson to get up to seven innings.”

There is a team function Thursday night at Chase Field so the field is not available to use for a simulated game either.

NORBERTO GOOD TO GO: Jordan Norberto played catch Wednesday and Hinch said he will pitch Thursday. The left-hander has been held out of action recently with tightness in his elbow.

SPEAKING OF NORBERTO: It looks like it could come down to he and Clay Zavada for a spot in the bullpen and Zavada did not help his case by walking the first batter he faced — to force in a run — Wednesday.

“He hasn’t had a good spring,” Hinch said. “He’s giving all he’s got, he’s trying, he wants to make this club, he’s coming off a very good year and he’s having a rough spring. It will down to the wire for all these decisions. He’s very much in the mix to make a team, but also guys are challenging for his roster spot so we’ll see on Saturday.”

D-backs Notes: March 30

Kris Benson will get his first chance to show the Major League staff what he can do in person Wednesday. Signed to a Minor League deal a few weeks ago, Benson seems to be a likely candidate to become the fifth starter when the D-backs need one April 17.

The right-hander will probably go five or six innings.

ISSUES: When it comes to whether or not the team should pick someone up on the waiver wire or via a trade before Monday’s opener, Hinch said the team is open to it on the pitching side, but cautioned against expecting too much.

“That person is probably getting squeezed out of somebody else’s camp so you have to grade that against your own,” Hinch said. “I don’t think we have to add someone from the outside. Specifically Kris Benson has provided depth as far as the rotation goes. We’re going to carry an extra reliever to start the season, which is somewhat of a free spot on the roster. I think the guys that we have are good enough to break camp. I think some of them haven’t played as well as we would have hoped which creates these questions or controversies whether it’s internal or external.”

FINAL BENCH SPOT(S): I still think Ryan Roberts is a good bet to make the team, but he certainly has not performed particularly well this spring.

If you were going strictly by numbers it would be Rusty Ryal and Tony Abreu, but like I said I still think Roberts gets one of those spots. We shall see come Saturday.

Notes from Monday’s game

For those on the roster bubble for the D-backs, it’s going to be a tense few days.

Manager A.J. Hinch said some of the team’s final decisions may not be made until the end of the week.

“It’ll probably be Saturday which is tough,” Hinch said. “It’s tough on the players, it’s tough on the staff, but it’s reality. Shaping a big league roster is difficult. Things can change on a daily basis.”

Of course, it’s always possible that the D-backs will either make a deal or claim someone on waivers before setting their roster for the regular season. It sounds, though, like if the D-backs do acquire someone it will be a pitcher and not a hitter.

“I wouldn’t anticipate that,” Hinch said when asked if the final spot on the bench could be someone not currently in the organization. “Could it change? Sure, but it would surprise me if it was outside the organization.”

BUCKNER PITCHES WELL, MULVEY STRUGGLES: It sure seems like Rodrigo Lopez has claimed the fourth spot in the rotation, but Hinch has not been ready to say that yet.

“We’ll deal with it when we have to,” Hinch said when asked if the rotation picture became any clearer Monday. “There’s no daily updates so to speak. These guys are all on pins and needles trying to figure out how this last week is going to go.”

The other two contenders — Billy Buckner and Kevin Mulvey — pitched Monday night against the Padres in Peoria with different results.

Mulvey started and allowed eight runs (three earned) on six hits in lasting just two innings. Five of the runs were unearned thanks to a throwing error by Mark Reynolds at third. He walked three and did not strike anyone out.

“It wasn’t a very good start,” Hinch said. “He battled himself early, the walks were the achilles heel tonight.”

Buckner followed Mulvey to the mound and allowed one hit and a pair of walks while striking out four over four innings.

“I thought towards the end of his outing his tempo was good and his stuff got better,” Hinch said of Buckner. “He was pitching a little bit up tonight which is never good for him.”

The one hit was a homer by Will Venable, a two-run shot on a two-seam fastball.

“That was much better,” said Buckner, who had struggled in his last two outings. “I took a very aggressive approach today.”

The D-backs will start the season with just four starters and add a fifth on April 17.

Daily D-backs Wrap: March 28

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TODAY’S STORIES:

Conor Jackson missed three games with sore groin
D-backs beat Brewers

A.J. Hinch stopped short of saying that Rodrigo Lopez had locked up a spot in the rotation, but it sure seems like the right-hander did just that with 5 1/3 shutout innings against the Brewers on Sunday.

“Very good,” Hinch said of Lopez’s performance. “That’s as good as he’s looked all spring and he’s had a good spring. He executed his pitches.”

So what else does he have to do to make the team?

“He’s doing all he can to make this team,” Hinch said. “Just keep pitching. We’re in no rush to judgment here ,but I’m happy with how he’s thrown the ball this spring.”

“I want to stay with the team,” Lopez said. “I think I can help them. I’ve just got to stay focused.”

It is not surprising that Hinch did not just come out and say Lopez was the guy considering that the other two pitchers competing for the spot — Billy Buckner and Kevin Mulvey — both are slated to pitch Monday night against the Padres in Peoria.

So what would they need to do tomorrow night to change how things stand right now?

“I don’t know,” Hinch said. “They need to pitch well. Lopey’s done a nice job of putting pressure on those guys and staking his claim on why he should potentially make the team. It’s good see. It’s good to see him come out and do well. It’s good for our team, it’s good for him and it creates a competitive situation.”

Has he put himself in a pretty good spot?

“Lopey’s put himself in a great spot,” Hinch said. “Each time out he’s executed his pitches. I’m happy with the way he’s thrown.”

After starting off the spring on the right foot, Buckner has allowed 13 runs in his last 5 2/3 innings and has an 11.66 ERA this spring.

Mulvey, who last pitched in a Minor League game last Tuesday, has a 3.68 ERA in three Cactus League games.

MAYBE THREE: Hinch on Saturday announced that Ian Kennedy had made the team, but did not say whether the right-hander will start the third or fourth game of the season.

“I’m not ready to back myself into the decision yet,” Hinch said.

One of the factors that works in Kennedy’s favor is the third spot in the rotation will get some extra off days during the month of April. That is the spot they had initially targeted for Brandon Webb for that reason.

SPEAKING OF WEBB: Nothing much new on the Brandon Webb front. The team is now having him throw from flat ground in “sets”, in a way simulating innings. That’s what the right-hander did Sunday morning.

“It went well,” D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said. “We incorporated a little higher intensity, a little higher volume. We did sets. I don’t think it simulates innings. The ball is a little better. It’s not game ready or anything like that, but he looks a little stronger for longer periods of time and that’s a good sign.”

After the sets, Webb threw between five and seven balls off the mound, starting behind the rubber and stepping in front of the rubber and throwing.

“It was a little unexpected, but he felt good enough to do it,” Hinch said. “Really all that does is change the angle of the throw and where his land foot is. It gives him something different in his program that isn’t so monotonous and boring.”

Hinch is well aware that the next week or so is going to be tough for Webb, who will begin the season on the disabled list.

“The first part of the season will punch him in the gut too because he’s not ready,” Hinch said. “It’s difficult mentally and physically to watch the rest of your teammates getting ready for Opening Day. We’re trying to alter his program to try and continue to push him forward.”

HEALTH MATTERS: Other than Webb, the D-backs right now do not have anyone else set to start the season on the DL.

“We’re a healthy team and that’s a good sign,” Hinch said. “I’m very pleased with the life that we have in our bodies. We’ve gotten over the lull of the middle part of Spring Training and I see plenty of energy and readiness.”

Daily D-backs Wrap: March 27

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TODAY’S STORIES

Despite struggles at the plate, Miguel Montero remains confident
D-backs lose a pitcher’s duel to the Indians
Kennedy claims spot in rotation

CONGRATS TO KENNEDY: Ian Kennedy was told following Saturday’s game with the Indians that he had made the team.

Not a real surprise given not only the fact that they traded for him, but also because he’s pitched very well this spring.

About the only question is how many innings the D-backs will be able to get from someone who missed most of last season. It would not be surprising to see the team give him an extra day of rest here and there to try and keep that innings total down.

RIGHTING THE SHIP: While the day’s news belonged to Kennedy, the pitcher who may have helped himself out the most Saturday was reliever Clay Zavada, who has struggled throughout the spring.

The D-backs would really like to have a lefty in their bullpen and they are certainly tempted by the potential of Jordan Norberto, who has pitched better than anyone not named Juan Gutierrez this spring. The issue is the lack of experience for Norberto, but again he’s been so good that it’s not completely out of the question that he makes the team.

Anyway, Zavada had a much-needed 1-2-3 inning against the Indians.

“I’ve been battling,” Zavada said. “I’ve been working to get my tempo back and I’m starting to see better results. It’s been a bumpy road, it’s been tough. I’ve been working hard and I’m going to keep working hard.”

“It’s amazing what a clean inning can do for confidence,” Hinch said. “I think it was a good outing for him, for us.”

NOT SO GOOD NEWS: A.J. Pollock, the second of two first-round picks the D-backs in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft underwent surgery to repair a fractured elbow Friday.

The center fielder suffered the injury when he attempted to make a sliding catch during a Minor League game last week.

GM Josh Byrnes said Pollock could be out around two to three months.

“I’m glad he signed early and had a full summer last year and we’ll get him out there and then conceivably in the [Arizona] Fall League,” Byrnes said.

Signed out of the University of Notre Dame, Pollock is a polished player, who hit .271 last year at Class A South Bend and was expected to begin the 2010 season at high-A Visalia.

TUCSON APPRECIATION DAY: Sunday will be Tucson Appreciation Day when the D-backs play host to the Brewers. The festivities will commemorate the organization’s 13 years of Spring Training in Southern Arizona. All fans in attendance will receive a pennant honoring the D-backs’ Spring Training in Tucson.

It will be an important day for Lopez, who will get another chance to claim the No. 4 spot in the rotation. The D-backs will face left-hander Doug Davis, who pitched for them from 2007-09 before departing via free agency.

Daily D-backs Wrap: March 24

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TODAY’S STORIES

D-backs fall to White Sox
D-backs interest in Kelly Johnson goes way back
Upton sprains ankle in Wednesday’s game 

A.J. Hinch sounded a little exasperated.

With Opening Day less than two weeks away, there is still an opening for the No. 4 spot in the rotation as well as some spots at the back end of the bullpen.

“I’m waiting for one of those guys in the group either bullpen or the starters to come up and grab these spots,” the D-backs skipper said. “They’re open for the taking. I’m waiting for somebody to stand out above the rest. The group that’s competing for the last bullpen spots or the rotation it would be nice to get [someone] to win the job and stake their claim to the spot. It’s still wide open.”

Wednesday was Billy Buckner’s turn to impress and he was not able to make it out of the fourth inning as he allowed five runs on seven hits over 3 2/3 innings.

“He started out great and then he lost his delivery and got a little quick,” Hinch said. “He was trying to control the running game so it was the tale of two different outings. Early on I thought he was in command of the game and then it got away from him a little bit, that ran his pitch count up and he got in trouble.”

The other two contestants for the rotation spot — Kevin Mulvey and Rodrigo Lopez — threw in Minor League games Tuesday.

Lopez threw four innings while Mulvey pitched into the fifth before being hit with a comebacker. He was removed from the game after that as a precaution, but was not injured.

“They both threw well,” Hinch said. “Mulvey had a slightly better day than Lopez. They both got their work in and both got their pitch counts up.”

Yet neither put a choke hold on the job. Same deal Wednesday. All that was accomplished Wednesday is another day came off the calendar.

“That’s the way I felt like today was, nothing really gained by anybody,” Hinch said. “It’s close to the season so it’s time to move forward. There’s still a lot of time so I’m not overly concerned, but the outings are getting smaller and smaller by the day. I’m not frustrated as much as I’m eager for someone to win the job.”

As for the bullpen neither Clay Zavada nor Blaine Boyer pitched particularly well.

On the bright side, Aaron Heilman was sharp in his one inning of work and Zach Kroenke got the lone lefty he faced out. Leo Rosales also tossed a shutout inning.

BENSON START: A name to keep in mind for the rotation for when the D-backs need a fifth starter April 17 is Kris Benson, who was signed to a Minor League deal recently.

Hinch said he would like to see Benson in a Cactus League game at some point before the month is out.

UPTON OK?: Didn’t seem like too many people were worried about Upton’s ankle injury, a sign that it’s probably not very serious. Upton did not have any ice on it when he met with reporters and he seemed to be walking fine.

Hinch even said he had him penciled into the lineup for Thursday.

D-backs Daily: March 22

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TODAY’S STORIES

D-backs rally to beat the Padres in 10 innings
Brandon Allen keeps it all in perspective

NOTES AND OPINIONS

MUCH BETTER: Ian Kennedy was impressive against the Padres, allowing just two hits while throwing five scoreless innings.

Kennedy is not known as a strikeout pitcher, but he managed to fan eight without walking a batter. Throwing strikes was something he wanted to accomplish and he did that and then some.

“I just wanted to pound the zone early on,” he said. “Worked really well with Chris Snyder today. He called a great game.”

The D-backs had to be pleased to see Kennedy bounce back after struggling against the Angels in his previous outing last week.

“The outing in Tempe I just kind of took it as a bad day,” Kennedy said. “I tried to learn from it and move on.”

I don’t think there was much question that Kennedy was going to be part of the team’s rotation, but if there was, I would think that there is no longer any doubt that will be.

“Ian was really, really good,” Hinch said. “He had good rhythm, he had good command he had swing and miss type stuff. A great outing. He hasn’t pitched poorly but he hadn’t pitched a clean game.”

He sure did Monday.

NOT AS GOOD: The day did not go as well for pitchers Jordan Norberto and Esmerling Vasquez.

Norberto came into the game having not allowed a run in six innings, but he struggled with his command and walked three and allowed a hit in lasting just two-thirds of an inning. He allowed one run, which he forced in when he gave Yorvit Torrealba a free pass with the bases loaded.

“It was good to see him under a little duress,” Hinch said.

While there had been some talk of Norberto making the team out of Spring Training, I always got the impression that the organization wanted him to get a little more Minor League seasoning. After all, he has made just 16 appearances at the Double-A level.

I still think he will start the year in the Minor Leagues, though it’s not out of the question they could decide to keep him. He’s certainly been extremely impressive. Regardless if he pitches like he did early in camp, expect to see him at Chase Field at some point this year.

Vasquez, who had shown improvement in his past few outings got out of the bases loaded jam in the seventh, but got himself into trouble with walks as well. The right-hander walked three and gave up a pair of runs.

SPEAKING OF THE ROSTER: Hinch said Monday that he is likely to carry 12 pitchers to start the year with eight of them being relievers.

If you figure that four of those spot are locked up by Chad Qualls, Bob Howry, Juan Gutierrez, Aaron Heilman and the fifth is all but taken by Blaine Boyer than it leaves you with three spots open.

I have to think that at this moment, Leo Rosales is a front runner for one. The right-hander has pitched well for the most part this spring and he’s out of Minor League options.

That leaves a couple of spots and a number of different options with Vasquez, Clay Zavada, Norberto and Zach Kroenke still in the mix.

We’ll see how the last two weeks play out.

WEBB UPDATE: Nothing really new here. Webb played catch again Monday. Hinch said they are being extra cautious in building his arm strength so that he doesn’t plateau like he did earlier this month.

While they don’t want to put a timeframe on him, it certainly seems like 30 days is the minimum it would take for him to be ready after getting back on the mound. So if late-April is going to be realistic, he will need to take a step forward soon.

DOUBLING UP: The D-backs grounded into five double plays wiping out numerous scoring opportunities.

“I could have done without all the double plays,” Hinch said.

Tuesday’s off day could not come at a better time for the D-backs, who seem ready for a break.

AT THE TOP: Conor Jackson hit at the top of the order for the second day in a row and you get the feeling that Hinch is really warming to the idea of hitting him there to start the season.

It’s really an excellent idea given that it plays to Jackson’s strength (getting on base, working counts) and the team truly doesn’t have a prototypical option there.

GOING UPTOWN: I’m late to the party on this, I know, but have you seen what the organization has planned for the right-field bleachers this year?

TAKING OFF: Tuesday will be an off day for the D-backs so this blog will be dark for the day, but will be back up and running from Glendale on Wednesday.

D-backs Daily: March 21

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TODAY’S STORIES

D-backs fall to Giants, 4-3 for fourth straight defeat
Stephen Drew and Kelly Johnson work on getting to know each other

When you think of leadoff hitters, you typically think of someone who is fast.

In the National League, though, the job description is a little different, at least in D-backs manager A.J. Hinch’s mind.

That’s because with the pitcher in the lineup a lot of times he sacrifices a runner into scoring position and then who follows him? The leadoff guy.

“He can be a run producer as well,” Hinch said. “I don’t think we have a traditional leadoff hitter on our so I’m going to be creative.”

Along those lines, Hinch decided to get a look at Conor Jackson in the leadoff spot for the first time Sunday.

In 2008, the last time he was healthy, Jackson led the team in on-base percentage and on the team right now, no one works the count as well as he did.

I like the idea of Jackson in the No. 1 spot, because not only does he get on base, see pitches and work counts, he is not a base-clogger. He’ll never be confused with Rickey Henderson on the bases, but he runs well enough and will steal a few bags.

Hinch said he might try Jackson in the leadoff spot again. Given the alternatives, I’d sure like to see him do that.

BETTER: Edwin Jackson was better Sunday than he had been in his previous outing when he allowed seven runs in 2 1/3 innings.

Good, not great.

“Obviously the walks killed him,” Hinch said.

Jackson walked Aarond Rowand to start the game and then hit Andres Torres with a pitch before allowing a three-run homer to John Bowker.

Jackson said he had some trouble settling into a rhythm, but once he did he pitched pretty well the rest of the way getting in five innings.

“To get through five the way it started was pretty successful,” Hinch said.

Here’s a photo from today…

View from press box.JPG

MENTAL MISCUES: Hinch was not pleased with some mental mistakes made by his squad Sunday including the final play when Ryan Roberts, who represented the tying run, was thrown out to end the game trying to stretch a double into a triple.

There were a couple of positioning mistakes and Miguel Montero did not get to second on a fly ball that was dropped.

“That’s the disappointing part of today,” Hinch said of the mental errors adding that while he didn’t want to make too big of a deal about them they will be addressed.

NO WORRIES: Talked to Chad Qualls before the game about his outing the other day against the Royals in which he allowed six runs and lasted just one-third of an inning.

“I got the pitcher out,” Qualls said.

Qualls can joke, because other than that outing he has pitched well this spring (he had a 1-2-3 inning Sunday) and most importantly he has experienced no ill effects from surgically repaired left knee.

“I’m lucky enough that I can flush that one [bad outing] down the toilet and get after it today,” he said.

MAKE SOME NOISE: It started out with Hinch telling his backups during a game to get in there and “make some noise.”

And it’s now progressed to the “Hyena Club” because well hyenas make plenty of noise. There’s a picture up in the clubhouse (see below) of real-life hyenas with the club members listed. They are Cole Gillespie, Gerardo Parra, Ed Rodgers, Evan Frey, Rusty Ryal, Brandon Allen, Augie Ojeda, Ryan Roberts, John Hester, Tony Abreu, Drew Macias, Jeff Bailey and Sean Coughlin.

Hyena Club.JPG

“B” TEAM: The Giants had only one projected Opening Day starter in their lineup Sunday and they pitched Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum in a Minor League game in Scottsdale rather than have him make the trip to Tucson.

“With the Tucson trip you’re never really surprised by anything,” Hinch said. “It’s probably more disappointing for the fans.”

Lopez and Mulvey to throw Tuesday

Tuesday is the lone scheduled off day of the spring for the D-backs.

Not everyone, however, will get the time away from the ballpark.

Kevin Mulvey and Rodrigo Lopez, who are both battling for a spot in the rotation will start Minor League games Tuesday as a way to get some extra work in.

The pair have not gotten as much work as others because they have split up their starts. Lopez, in fact, was so efficient with his pitches in his last outing against the A’s that he threw just 31 pitches in three innings and had to go to the bullpen to throw more.

D-backs daily wrap: March 18

Don’t forget for up-to-the-minute news and information, you can follow me on Twitter.

TODAY’S STORIES

Mark Reynolds signs contract extension
Rodrigo Lopez and Kevin Mulvey make their pitch for jobs Thursday
D-backs fall 7-3 to the A’s at Phoenix Municipal Stadium

GETTING BETTER: Reliever Esmerling Vasquez, who is battling for one of the final two or three spots in the bullpen has pitched better his last couple of times out with his velocity picking up.

“He is pretty dynamic when he’s in the strike zone,” D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said of him. “With a guy who is 92-97 [mph] with his arm angle, he makes it tough on the hitter when he gets strike one. He’s not too far removed from that stretch last season where he was probably our most dominant reliever.”

KEEPING IT CLOSE: It’s been a very good spring for infielder Tony Abreu, but infielder/outfielder Rusty Ryal is keeping things close in the battle for the final bench spot. Even when Ryal has not gotten a hit he has tended to hit the ball hard.

“I’ve said all along, I think Rusty is one of the few guys that we have in camp that can play a bench role and have a chance to hit the ball out of the ballpark every time he steps in,” Hinch said. “He’s a strong hitter with a lot of power. Ryal is living up to our belief that every time he gets in the batter’s box you feel like something good is going to happen and he’s going to hit the ball hard. That’s a nice weapon to have.”

Hinch has worked recently to try and simulate the situations guys could find themselves in during the regular season, for instance using Ryal as a pinch-hitter against a left-hander.

COMPETITION? WHAT COMPETITION?: Lopez said he has not paid close attention to what people are saying or writing about his battle to claim a rotation spot.

“I’m satisfied with my job and what I’m doing over there,” he said. “I’m not going to worry about the competition. This is a team and I’ve got to take care of my business first and try to help the team. That’s what I’m here for. I’m not reading much in the paper and don’t watch much on TV. I think if I pitch good and pitch the way I have pitched in my career, I’ll have a spot in the big leagues.”

TAKING A DAY: I will be off tomorrow so no blog or tweets, but I will be back at it again Saturday.

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