Notes from pitcher and catcher report day

47 days until Opening Day in Denver
12 days until first Spring Training game

Couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day for pitchers and catchers to begin reporting to Salt River Fields with temperatures reaching 80 degrees under sunny skies.

It was a relatively quiet day. It’s called a report day, but technically the pitchers and catchers only have to check in by phone and besides most of the team, including the position players, have been working out at the facility for a while now.

Here are two bits of news to come out of the day:

DUKE TO BE LATE: Pitcher Zach Duke, who was acquired from the Pirates in November, may wind up being a couple of days late as his wife is set to give birth.

JOHNSON HEARING SET FOR WEDNESDAY: Second baseman Kelly Johnson’s arbitration hearing is set for Wednesday, GM Kevin Towers told us.

“We’ve certainly been preparing for the case as well as I’m sure they are,” Towers said. “I’ve said all along our hope is to avoid a hearing. I think being able to settle would be better for both sides, you know he wants to focus on the season. I think today we’ll probably have some dialogue.”

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There was a lot of talk today from both Towers and manager Kirk Gibson about restoring an identity for the D-backs and that’s something I’m sure I will be writing about more this spring. Towers was asked what happened to the D-backs identity from 2007 when the team won 90 games and went to the NL Championship Series. His answer I think is very telling in how his philosophy differs from former GM Josh Byrnes.

“They had a great bullpen in ’07,” Towers said referring to Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde. “They had several weapons coming out of the bullpen. I thought right then and there if they keep this bullpen together they could be very tough because they had very strong nucleus of young players.”

And then he moved on to talk about that team as a whole.

“They started facing adversity for the first time as a group and there really wasn’t a lot of veteran leadership around to maybe help those guys in how you deal with it and it just became kind of a domino effect and then there was probably some self doubt,” Towers said.

That’s why Towers believed that building the bullpen was so important this offseason as well as also adding some veterans to the bench. He will be mocked by some in the sabermetric community for that philosophy and it does go against the current thinking in baseball so it will be interesting to see how it all works out this year.

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Another thing you hear a lot of from those in the organization is the different atmosphere that Towers has created. Whereas in the past there was a feeling that the baseball operations department was separate from the rest of the front office that is no longer the case.

During the organizational meetings that were held last week, there was quite a bit of talk about how united everyone was. That to me seemed to be an indication that it was not previously like that.

“If there was a disconnect I don’t think it’s there anymore,” Towers said. “I think Wednesday when people left to go back to their homes I feel they were unified, ready for battle and their focus is on this season.”

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That’s all for today. I’ll be back at it bright and early Monday. Don’t forget you can follow me on Twitter @dbackswriter.

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