Saturday’s wrapup on the D-backs
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CLOSE CALL: The competition for the final spot on the bench is starting to really heat up for the D-backs.
“It’s nice when the plot thickens a little bit,” D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said. “We still have a lot of time left so there’s plenty of time for further evaluation, but to have them playing crisply is good to see.”
Tony Abreu, Jeff Bailey, Cole Gillespie and Rusty Ryal have all impressed in various ways. At the start of camp it looked like Abreu and Ryal would be the main the combatants given that the team probably would not want to carry five outfielders (Gillespie) or a another first baseman (Bailey).
It’s still doubtful that they will carry someone whose primary position is first base, but Gillespie may make them reconsider carrying five outfielders.
“It’s interesting how guys can change your mind or push to make rosters,” Hinch said. “I think with our roster and the flexibility we have it’s not inconceivable that we wouldn’t carry five outfielders. Gillespie is making a great impression.”
Acquired in the deal that sent Felipe Lopez to Milwaukee last July, Gillespie has hit the ball well — he tripled in his one at-bat Saturday to raise his average to raise his spring average to .316. In addition he’s shown that he can play all three outfield positions rather than just the corners, which adds to his value.
Abreu and Ryal have both played extremely well. Saturday it was a back and forth between the two with Abreu, who is hitting .478, tripling home a pair of runs in the fifth and Ryal coming back with a homer one inning later.
Ryal, who raised his average to .250 with a pair of homers, also made a nice diving stop at third and has shown he can play second, first and left field as well.
“Ryal’s diving play at third was nice to see,” Hinch said.
Abreu has already proved he could play second, short and third this spring.
“Abreu continues to impress at short,” Hinch said.
There’s still three weeks left and it will likely come down to what skill set Hinch wants in that final spot. Does he want a versatile middle infielder like Abreu? Or with Augie Ojeda already filling that role does Hinch want someone with a little more pop in his bat like Ryal? Or does Gillespie play so well that he forces them to carry a fifth outfielder?
Stay tuned. This could get real interesting.
WEBB UPDATE: Brandon Webb played catch again Saturday and there seems to be some encouragement building in him as well as Arizona officials.
“He feels great,” Hinch said. “I think the three or four day blow that we gave him was what he needed. He’s showing some more life in his arm. The good thing is he’s progressing at a more accelerated pace.”
Webb threw a few breaking balls, something Hinch took as a very positive sign though there is still no timetable for him to get into a Cactus League game.
“Hopefully sometime in the next week I’d certainly would hope to get him back up on the mound and get him back on his program of bullpens and whatever’s next,” Hinch said.
And let’s stop waiting for the D-backs to come out and say he’s going to start the season on the disabled list — Hinch gets asked that question every day — and just accept that he will not be making the start the third day of the season as originally hoped.
The D-backs will not need a fifth starter until April 17 so it will be interesting to see whether they decide to just carry four starters until then and if Webb could possibly be ready for that start.
“If he’s not going to make the third start of the season when is that next start going to come?” Hinch said. “I don’t know. But what I do know is as soon as he’s ready we want him in our rotation. But until then we’re going to compete and expect to win so when he does get back he’s a great addition to our team.
NO PLAYING GAMES WITH KENNEDY: With Ian Kennedy only throwing 23 2/3 innings during the regular season last year — plus another 29 2/3 in the Arizona Fall League — Hinch was asked Saturday if the team might delay the start of Kennedy’s season a little to help keep his inning total down.
“We won’t be interested in delaying the start of his season on purpose,” he said.
Instead, the team will monitor him throughout the season and if necessary give him an extra day here and there. Hinch, though, said the team expects between 160-180 innings from Kennedy, typically what a No. 4 or 5 starter throws.
TITLES: Hinch does not want to say yet whether Bob Howry or Juan Gutierrez will be the primary setup man to closer Chad Qualls.
“It’s a little early to worry about that yet,” Hinch said. “[Gutierrez] will pitch in important innings, though, that’s how I would title it.”
BACK: Outfielder Chris Young, who left the team for a few days due to a death in his family, was back in the lineup Saturday.