Results tagged ‘ Josh Byrnes ’

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.

March 11 Wrap

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

Here’s a look at today’s stories: A Brandon Webb update, D-backs sign or renew all 22 pre-arbitration players and beat the Angels 4-1.

Really there’s nothing new in the Webb story, nothing that has not been obvious for the better part of the last week and that is that it is unlikely that he will be able to start the third game of the season.

Now look, that doesn’t mean that he won’t be able to start soon after that, it doesn’t mean there’s something further wrong with his shoulder and it certainly is not time to panic about his availability for the long haul of the season.

The man is recovering from shoulder surgery. He had not thrown off a mound for the better part of 11 months. There were bound to be some hiccups along the way. This was never going to be smooth sailing.

Let’s see what happens over the next week or so. It sure sounds like he just needs to get over the hump or plateau that he’s at right now (and by the way I’ve used the word “stagnant” in my stories more in the past week than I previously had used in my entire career). If he’s able to get over that hump/off that plateau/unstagnanted it could be a quick progression for him. If not…well there’s plenty of time to delve into what that means for the team.

I know that GM Josh Byrnes told The Arizona Republic in December “I don’t think there’s any scenario where it doesn’t go well for him and we’re able to overcome that.” But keep in mind that was before the team signed second baseman Kelly Johnson, reliever Bob Howry and first baseman Adam LaRoche so I’m not sure that quote is operative any longer.

Am I saying the D-backs are going to win the NL West without Webb pitching well for most of the season? No. But then again I’m not sure they win the division even with him pitching well for most of the season.

What I am saying is there is a chance they win the division with him and there’s a chance they win it without him. Surely his health will be a big factor, but there are lots of others.

Anyway, that’s more than enough about Webb for one day. Let’s take a look at some other things to come out of the game today:

– You can’t help but be impressed so far with Edwin Jackson. He threw a solid three innings today and was so efficient he had to go down to the bullpen to throw 15 more pitches so he would reach his pitch count for the day.

“Nasty stuff,” catcher Miguel Montero said about Jackson.

“Still trying to work on things,” Jackson said. “Still fine tuning.”

– Reliever Leo Rosales has looked really good this spring. The right-hander allowed a home run to Mike Napoli (what else is new, Napoli has three homers already this spring) but in two spring outings he’s retired six of the seven batters he’s faced.

“Leo’s thrown the ball well,” D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said.

Rosales kind of flew under the radar a bit last year — he pitched better than you think — and is out of Minor League options. It would not surprise me in the least if he makes the team out of Spring Training.

– Tony Abreu = en fuego.

Abreu started at third Thursday so if you’re keeping track at home he’s played second, short and third this spring. He was 2-for-3 with a double and a couple of plays in the field.

“Abreu continues to shine,” Hinch said.

Spent some time talking with Abreu after the game and it’s clear he’s feeling very confident and realizes the opportunity that he has to make this team.

– Chris Snyder hit his first home run of the spring, but more importantly has now played three days in a row — catching, dhing and catching — and has not had any issues with his surgically-repaired back.

– Aaron Heilman, who looked shaky in his first outing of the spring looked sharp striking out a pair in one inning. Since allowing four runs in one inning last Friday against the Cubs, the right-hander has allowed one hit in two innings.

Saturday wrapup

First things first, here are links to a couple of stories from today:

Webb urges patience in judging rehab

Reynolds contract talks continue

Remember you can follow me on Twitter for the latest updates

Chris Young put together another good day at the plate Saturday going 3-for-4 with a double, a homer and three RBIs against the Giants. Friday against the Cubs he had a line-drive double to the gap in left.

“It felt good,” Young said. “Scottsdale Stadium always brings a lot of energy. Packed house, lots of D-backs fans out there today.”

Young, who spent the offseason working with a track coach on becoming more explosive, had a bunt single in the first inning. Bunting is something he also worked at during the offseason. With as hard as he hits the ball to the left side, third basemen tend to play him deep, which would seem to give him an opportunity to lay the ball down some.

“I’ve got to use my speed more,” Young said.

In what has to be a good sign for the D-backs even the out Young made — a strikeout in the second inning — he worked the count and battled during the at-bat.

STARTING OPTIONS: Before the game I asked GM Josh Byrnes if Brandon Webb was not ready for the opener would he look to add a starter.

“I think we want to evaluate the guys we have and give them a chance,” Byrnes replied. “Like any spring, we have a good idea of players that could be available for a variety of reasons and we’ve got to scout them and decide whether we believe they would be upgrades, particularly if there’s an absence. Generally that activity happens at the end of the month, if there is anything like that. We’re in communication with our scouts so they’re aware of a hit list.”

NICE DEBUT: Edwin Jackson worked two scoreless innings in his first appearance in an Arizona uniform. The right-hander allowed a pair of hits and fanned one.

“I felt pretty good for the first day,” Jackson said. “Stayed around the plate for the most part, commanded the pitches, not a bad first outing.”

Jackson said he threw all his pitches — curve, slider, change.

“Pretty much came with the full arsenal today just to see how it is,” he said.

When asked if he was working on anything he said, “Stay around the strike zone, make them put the ball in play. Get used to pitching to contact and let the defense work behind me.”

Jackson did do one thing that gave Hinch pause. In the second he laid down a sacrifice bunt and stretched for the base at first nearly colliding with Aubrey Huff.

“I could have done without that lunge at first base,” Hinch said with a smile.

EVEN DOZEN: Arizona manager A.J. Hinch has hedged as to how many pitchers the team will carry to start the year, but Byrnes said Saturday he would prefer they keep 12 with 13 position players.

LOOKING GOOD: Tony Abreu drew praise from Hinch for the second straight day for his play at shortstop this spring.

“I’m impressed,” Hinch said. “I think he plays with great energy and has a knack for finding the ball.”

Abreu has made several nice defensive plays this spring and is Hinch said “right in the thick of it” for the final spot on the bench.

Hinch added that the club could carry both Augie Ojeda and Abreu.

STOP!: The big inning has been a problem for the D-backs in their first three games.

The Rockies had rallies of three and four runs in the opener, the Cubs put up a four-spot Friday and the Giants scored nine runs in the fifth Saturday.

“Those big innings are not what we want to see,” Hinch said. “That’s a point that we’ll recognize. Control the inning. Being able to stop the bleeding when you have the opportunity to.”

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.

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.”

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D-backs looking for extra degree in 2010

There is something about the 2009 season for the Arizona Diamondbacks that just doesn’t add up.

The Opening Day loss of Brandon Webb clearly hurt as did being without Conor Jackson, one of the team’s best hitters in 2008, for almost all the year.

But that still should not translate into entering the season’s final day 23 games under .500 and an embarrassing September. The talent that is on the roster should add up to better than that.

You look at the lineup the Padres ran out there against the D-backs that last weekend at Chase Field. Compare that to the one the D-backs started on that day and honestly would you take more than two or three Padres over their D-backs counterparts in that? I would not.

Yet somehow the D-backs are looking up at the Padres in the standings. Somehow the Padres managed to finish this season strong while the D-backs, well not so much.

There is something missing with this D-backs team. What that is I am not sure, but you can bet it’s a question that the Arizona front office has been pondering in a big way. Because this team has come off the rails since its 90-win year in 2007 and someway, somehow GM Josh Byrnes and his staff have to figure out exactly what it is that is missing and then how to fix it.

“It’s been a strange thing,” Byrnes said when we discussed the way things have gone since 2007. “A lot of these guys have been here for three years and on the front end had a lot of success. We know they’re talented, we know they’ve been part of a winning team before, it’s important to not lose sight of that.”

What it seems then is in addition to adding some more talent — another arm in the rotation and bullpen, picking up Brandon Webb’s option — the team needs to adjust its attitude and approach. That much at least is clear.

“There are a lot of issues that can get a team sidetracked from the issue of winning,” Byrnes told me. “And I think we need to get that mindset of everyday showing up to win a game. I can’t imagine 2009 doesn’t anger you, doesn’t frustrate you, it should. We need to go into next year and compete with some determination.”

That edge, that ability to push yourself, to be better than you are is what makes the difference at this level given the fact that the difference in talent between players is so small.

There is a book “212 the Extra Degree” that talks about this. The title is based on the fact that water is scalding at 211 degrees, but at 212 degrees it boils and it’s that one extra degree that can make the difference between being good and being great.

NBA legend Michael Jordan received some criticism for his Hall of Fame induction speech because he mocked some former adversaries in it. The speech should not have surprised anyone, because that was the way Jordan motivated himself during his career. It was that edge that kept him playing hard in meaningless games and practices even after he was recognized as one of the all-time greats.

Former D-back great Randy Johnson would often talk about “people who say I’m too old, people who think I can’t do it” even in years when he was winning 20-plus games and it was hard to find anyone who doubted him. But that was what he used to drive himself even though he had already accomplished so much in his career.

The point is different people use different methods, but the players who get the most out of their talent in sports just like the people who get the most out of their talent in whatever field or career they are in, find ways to motivate and push themselves.

Obviously not everyone does that and in that case Arizona manager A.J. Hinch has to figure out how to push his players. Some will need a kick, some will need a pat, some will need a kick followed by a pat.

The challenge then for Byrnes and his staff will need to figure how to retool the roster and Hinch’s is to get the most out of it.

Ultimately, though, the responsibility rests with the players, who come back. They have to find a way to get that extra degree to avoid another disappointing season.

 

More tidbits from Tuesday’s workout

Here are some notes from Tuesday:

– Look for James Skelton to play a number of different positions this spring. The Rule 5 pick is a natural catcher, but has spent time working in the infield over the last month with third-base coach Chip Hale here in Tucson.

Skelton will for sure play some second and also get a look in the outfield.

“We can at least try out a few things and see how he looks,” GM Josh Byrnes said.

Though he is of slight build, Skelton has already shown the staff some skills behind the plate.

“He has very soft hands, moves well and threw out about 40 percent of runners last year,” Byrnes said. “His defense behind the plate is solid.”

One of the attributes that led to Skelton’s selection in the Rule 5 Draft is his ability to get on base.

“A skill set we need,” Byrnes said.

– Max Scherzer threw a flat ground session and according to manager Bob Melvin even threw a few breaking balls.

Scherzer could throw his first bullpen this weekend, Melvin said.

– It’s best for both parties that the D-backs got a deal done with Conor Jackson before a hearing.

Jackson said all the right things this week about how he would not be bothered by what the club might say about him during a hearing, but he’s human and no one likes to hear negative things from their employer.

From the D-backs’ perspective they avoid a hearing where even if they had won they would have risked what they said in there weighing on Jackson during the year. Of course, clubs always prefer to settle before putting in all that work. Arbitration cases take an enormous amount of preparation and the D-backs were all but done with their work on the eve of the hearing.

– There will be fewer “B” games this year — maybe only one on March 4. That’s in part because the White Sox are no longer sharing the complex with the D-backs, but also because there are more spring games this year and fewer bodies once the WBC players leave on March 1.

– A happy anniversary to first-base coach Lorenzo Bundy and his lovely wife Lupita. The couple were married 18 years ago.

Lorenzo is one of the truly good guys in the game and he has worked hard and given much to get to where he is today.

Cruz still a possibility

D-backs GM Josh Byrnes confirmed on Sunday that the team has had conversations recently with free agent pitcher Juan Cruz about returning.

Cruz is classified as a Type A free agent and it’s been speculated that the draft compensation issue has caused teams to shy away from signing Cruz, who made a little more than $1.9 million last year. It’s possible that the D-backs could use some of the money budgeted for the first-round and supplemental pick they were going to get for Cruz to instead re-sign him.

“It’s Feb. 15 and I don’t think he or us expected him to still be out there,” Byrnes said.

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