TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A.J. Hinch admits to a "quick learning curve" last season, when he took over the Diamondbacks in May as the youngest manager of a major league team in five years.
Without injured ace Brandon Webb on the mound, the Diamondbacks finished last in the NL West at 70-92 and were one of the league's worst defensive teams.
Webb is expected to be healthy again after right shoulder surgery, though, and the former Cy Young Award winner's presence in the rotation should help the 35-year-old Hinch, who became the youngest to lead a big league team since the Cleveland Indians' Eric Wedge in 2003.
"We have a team with a better spirit. A lot of guys are anxious to flush last season down the toilet and start over," Hinch said Friday, when pitchers and catchers reported for spring training. "And I have the luxury of having very credentialed pitchers."
Hinch plans to start Dan Haren — his best pitcher last year at 14-10 record with a 3.14 ERA — on Opening Day, followed by newcomer Edwin Jackson to give Webb more time to rest.
"It's a great reward for Dan," Hinch said, "and a win-win for Brandon because we lengthen his spring training."
Newcomer Ian Kennedy and Billy Buckner are the front-runners for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. Hinch also is excited about his bullpen, which features closer Chad Qualls and set up men Juan Gutierrez, Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman.
"There's no easy way through the NL West," Hinch said. "You have to grind your way through, and starting pitching helps you do that."
Hinch said Jackson, who went 13-9 with a 3.62 ERA last season in Detroit, does not have to be "super human" with Haren and Webb in the rotation.
"At the winter meetings, (Tigers manager) Jim Leyland told me all I needed to do was put Edwin in the rotation, go have a smoke and come back six or seven innings later," Hinch said. "I told him I have a little problem with that — I don't smoke — but I'll take the six or seven innings any time."
Hinch expects to have healthy competition in camp, especially in the outfield, where Chris Young will be pushed by Gerardo Parra. Young spent some time in the minors last season but returned to have a productive last month and reported to the team early this year.
"Chris looks good. He has a smile back on his face," said Hinch, who believes Young is capable of 20-plus homers and 20-plus stolen bases. "I'm going to push him, challenge him."
The Diamondbacks committed the second-most errors (124) in the National League last year. To help their defense, they added second baseman Kelly Johnson and first baseman Adam LaRoche, who hit .277 with 25 homers and 83 RBIs for Pittsburgh, Boston and Atlanta last season.
Hinch, an All-American at Stanford, played catcher for the Royals, Tigers and Phillies from 1998-2004. He headed the Diamondbacks' player development before taking over on May 8 and going 58-76 as manager.
"Obviously, I had a quick learning curve," Hinch said. "But being able to start fresh in spring training is anything a manger can ask for. Now we have to go do it and play better."
Pitchers and catchers begin workouts Saturday, with the full squad set to start Wednesday in the last scheduled spring training season at Tucson Electric Field.
Arizona and the Colorado Rockies will move next year into a new spring training complex on the Salt River Reservation, just east of Scottsdale, Ariz.