Published March 16, 2010
Brandon Webb has come to grips to the fact that what likely will be his last season with the Diamondbacks will be abbreviated by at least a few weeks.
Webb had not thrown to hitters the first three weeks of spring, not even in batting practice, and it seems certain that he will open the season on the disabled list while continuing to recover from August debridement surgery on his right shoulder.
"I don't care when I come back, as long as I get some time in," said Webb, whose contract expires after 2010.
Even if Webb makes steady progress from this point, he will be about two weeks behind the rest of the starters. When spring training opened, Webb was slotted into the No. 3 spot in the rotation behind Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson, with his initial start scheduled for April 7.
While no Webb is not a good thing (see 2009, when he made one start and the D-backs were 70-92), it could be worse for Arizona. Because the D-backs have two off days in the first eight days, they will not need a fifth starter until April 17. The No. 5 starter will not be needed regularly until April 27, which is the fifth game in a stretch of 20 straight.
Ian Kennedy and Billy Buckner are the Nos. 4-5 starters at this point of spring training, and each could be bumped up in the rotation, leaving Rodrigo Lopez, Kevin Mulvey and Bryan Augenstein as candidates to slide into the rotation until Webb is ready.
"This might not be the worst thing in the world," Haren said. "I think we have enough pitching to at least hold our heads above water until he comes back. And when he comes back, it will be a nice little shot in the arm. If it's May, if it's the end of April, it will be nice to have him back 100 percent.
"No one wants him to come back 80 percent. We want him 100 percent in August, September. Those are the months that are really going to matter."
--C Chris Snyder, who underwent a discectomy in his lower back in September after suffering an initial injury in last year's spring training, played three consecutive games the first week of spring training and homered in the third. He caught twice and played DH once, and manager A.J. Hinch said he would try to get both Snyder and C Miguel Montero extra work in minor league games to make sure both are in game shape at the start of the regular season. Snyder enters the season as the backup for the first time since 2005.
--INF Tony Abreu was making a strong early impression. Abreu, in the mix for the final reserve spot on a team that will likely carry 13 position players, had 10 hits in his first 20 at-bats. Included was a home run and a triple against his former team, the Dodgers, on March 10. Abreu was obtained as the player to be named in the deal that sent RHP Jon Garland to Los Angeles last Aug. 31.
--The D-backs renewed the contracts of 3B Mark Reynolds and RHP Ian Kennedy on March 11 and agreed to one-year deals with 20 other pre-arbitration eligible players: INF Tony Abreu, 1B Brandon Allen, RHP Bryan Augenstein, RHP Billy Buckner, SS Pedro Ciriaco, OF Cole Gillespie, RHP Juan Gutierrez, C John Hester, LHP Zach Kroenke, RHP Jose Marte, RHP Roque Mercedes, RHP Kevin Mulvey, LHP Jordan Norberto, OF Gerardo Parra, INF Ryan Roberts, INF Rusty Ryal, RHP Daniel Stange, RHP Cesar Valdez, RHP Esmerling Vasquez and LHP Clay Zavada. Reynolds will earn $500,000 this season.
--Former D-backs 1B Tony Clark was hired by the Major League Baseball Players Association as the director of player relations, a newly created position. Clark, who played with the D-backs from 2005-09 with a brief stop in San Diego in 2007, became active in union affairs in 1999. In his final seven seasons, he served as one of two associated representatives, the most senior position a player can have within the union. "I am excited to begin this next chapter of my life by doing my best to ensure that the MLBPA remains a strong and cohesive union," Clark said.
--When Dodgers OF Matt Kemp batted out of order with runners on first and second and two outs in the third inning of an exhibition game March 10, Diamondbacks manager A.J. Hinch was prepared. Kemp either would make an out (he did) or be declared out, because the Dodgers were hitting out of order.
"The inning was over. Nothing could have happened that would have hurt us. I was on the top step, waiting for a walk, a hit by pitch, a single, a homer. Anything that Kemp would have done, we would have had the first controversy," Hinch said. "I kind of wanted Kemp to get a hit. Nothing against (RHP Bob) Howry, but that would have been fun to kill their momentum."
While Kemp was listed as fourth in the lineup widely distributed before the game, he was listed third and Andre Ethier fourth on the official lineup card the Dodgers gave plate umpire Mike Winters before the game.
BY THE NUMBERS: .625 -- OF Conor Jackson's batting average in his first five spring games after missing the final five months of 2009 with valley fever.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The mound is a lonely place for young relievers." -- Manager A.J. Hinch, referring to the bullpen depth provided by the winter acquisitions of veteran RHPs Aaron Heilman and Bob Howry.
The Diamondbacks kept busy in the offseason, adding two regulars (1B Adam LaRoche and 2B Kelly Johnson), two starting pitchers (RHPs Edwin Jackson and RHP Ian Kennedy), and two setup men (RHPs Bob Howry and Aaron Heilman). They had to do something: Without RHP Brandon Webb and with the NL's second-worst defense in 2009, they slipped to 70-92.
ARRIVALS: RHP Edwin Jackson (trade with Tigers), RHP Ian Kennedy (trade with Yankees), 2B Tony Abreu (trade with Dodgers), RHP Aaron Heilman (trade with Cubs), RHP Bobby Howry (free agent from Giants), 2B Kelly Johnson (free agent from Braves), 1B Adam LaRoche (free agent from Braves).
DEPARTURES: RHP Max Scherzer (traded to Tigers), LHP Daniel Schlereth (traded to Tigers), 1B Josh Whitesell (non-tendered, signed minor league deal with Nationals), LHP Doug Davis (free agent, signed with Brewers), 3B/1B Chad Tracy (free agent, signed minor league deal with Cubs), OF Eric Byrnes (released, signed with Mariners).
SPRING FOCUS: Fundamentals will be stressed. Manager A.J. Hinch has vowed the D-backs will be a better defensive team in 2010 after committing 124 errors last season, second most in the NL and second most in franchise history. Some of the miscues stemmed from lapses of concentration, which did not sit well. The position battles are limited to the No. 5 starter, the final bench player and the final one or two relievers for a team that likes to carry 13 position players and 12 pitchers.
1. RHP Brandon Webb
2. RHP Dan Haren
3. RHP Edwin Jackson
4. RHP Ian Kennedy
5. RHP Billy Buckner
The D-backs are holding their breath that Webb can return to the top of the rotation after August shoulder surgery. He was arguably the best pitcher in the NL from 2006-08, when he was first, first and second in the Cy Young race.
Haren had career-best numbers while taking over as the ace last season, making his third straight All-Star team. The D-backs identified Jackson and Kennedy early and got them in a three-team deal at the winter meetings. Buckner finished well last season, but he must continue to spot his pitches well.
RHP Chad Qualls (closer)
RHP Bob Howry
RHP Aaron Heilman
RHP Juan Gutierrez
LHP Clay Zavada
RHP Blaine Boyer
LHP Zach Kroenke or RHP Leo Rosales or RHP Esmerling Vasquez
Qualls missed September after suffering a fractured left kneecap on a freak fielding play, but he believes he will be ready by spring training. He had a career-high 28 saves in his first season as a closer and will fill that role again, although Gutierrez was 9-for-9 in save chances after Qualls went down, and Gutierrez throws 97 mph.
Veterans Howry and Heilman were obtained to add experience to a bullpen that scuffled to a 4.61 ERA last season, the second highest in the NL, with mostly young arms. Zavada is the only lefty with a strong hold on a roster spot.
1. SS Stephen Drew
2. LF Conor Jackson
3. RF Justin Upton
4. 1B Adam LaRoche
5. 3B Mark Reynolds
6. C Miguel Montero
7. CF Chris Young
8. 2B Kelly Johnson
The D-backs do not have a true leadoff hitter, although Drew has done his most productive work at that spot -- a .283 career average and an .814 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Young has the speed to hit first but does not make enough contact, although he might be tried there again.
Jackson, who missed most of last season with a viral infection known as valley fever, is a patient hitter, and he does not have to hit out of position at cleanup with the addition of LaRoche and the continued maturity of Upton, Reynolds and Montero. Johnson had a down year in 2009, but the D-backs believe an arm injury was the culprit.
C Chris Snyder
OF Gerardo Parra
INF/OF Ryan Roberts
INF Augie Ojeda
INF/OF Rusty Ryal or OF Cole Gillespie or INF Tony Abreu
Snyder, who lost his starting job after suffering a back injury last season, is a student of the game and a good handler of pitchers. He had been Webb's personal catcher for most of 2006-08, and it will be interesting to see if that remains the case.
Parra has the arm and range to play all three outfield spots, but he struggled at the plate against left-handed pitchers last season. Roberts can play second, third and left field and has a little pop, and Ojeda is a solid defender at three infield positions. Both Roberts and Ojeda had career-best offensive seasons in extended time last year. Ryal hammers lefties, and that might be enough to give him an advantage for the final position-player spot.
TOP ROOKIES: RHP Brian Augenstein is a longshot to take the final spot in the rotation, but he dominated in two stints at Class AA Mobile last season, going 5-0 with an 0.99 ERA while giving up only 27 hits in 45 2/3 innings over nine starts. LHP Zach Kroenke will vie for a bullpen spot after going 7-1 with a 1.99 ERA with the Yankees' Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate.
--RHP Brandon Webb (right shoulder cleanup surgery in August 2009) had not thrown to hitters this spring through March 12. He was limited to long toss at 120 feet after saying he felt "stagnant" in a bullpen session March 7. Webb had not been scheduled to get into an exhibition game did not appear to have enough preparation time to be ready for the opening of the regular season.
--RHP Chad Qualls (left knee surgery in September 2009) was pitching on his regular schedule this spring, although his fielding-practice time was curtailed.