Heading into the spring, the favorites for the Arizona Diamondbacks' starting rotation were Joe Saunders, Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, Zach Duke, and Armando Galarraga. Kennedy was named the opening day starter last week with Hudson pitching behind him in the number two spot.
Duke took a line drive off his pitching hand earlier this month, eliminating him from consideration until May. Saunders and Galarraga have been ineffective this spring. Galarraga has an 8.44 in five games, while Saunders comes in at 14.54 through four starts. The two pitchers are a combined 0-5.
Enright, meanwhile, has easily the lowest spring ERA of any Diamondbacks starter at 2.65. He, Kennedy, and Hudson have only combined for 25 major league victories.
"He's pitched great," manager Kirk Gibson said Tuesday. "He's done everything we've asked, does everything well. He's earned a spot."
Gibson added that Enright could pitch as high as third in the rotation, and went on to defend Enright, whom scouts have never been enamored with because he gets by with what they consider to be marginal stuff.
"People say Barry doesn't have great stuff. I disagree," began Gibson. "He executes his pitches, he's very well-prepared, he fields his position well, he holds runners well, and he handles the bat well. That's good stuff to me. When you're looking to try to win ballgames, would I rather have a guy who throws 99 (miles per hour) and doesn't do that? No, I wouldn't. [Velocity] alone doesn't win ballgames."
Enright's velocity, while nothing special, is better than he often gets credit for. His fastball averaged just under 90 mph last season. His slider does not have a very sharp break to it, which is why right-handed batters slugged .512 against him last year. Averaging 80.6 mph last season, Enright's changeup has been improving this spring.
"I just want to trust it," he said of the offspeed pitch. "I've really guided that pitch over the past few years. When the change-up is better, in those outings I really throw well. I don't have to overexpose my slider. I can work off my fastball/change-up."
Enright was extremely effective in his first dozen big league starts, posting a 2.45 ERA and striking out two batters for every walk issued. Enright allowed a whopping 12 homers over his final five starts of 2010, however, striking out just eight batters en route to an 8.06 ERA.
"It was good to go through those first 12 starts. It was also good to go through September and go through those struggles," explained Enright. "It helped me, I think, through the offseason, not to have that complacency, that feeling of sitting on what I did last year. It helped me come in with extra motivation."
Saunders, Galarraga, and Duke now have extra motivation not to rest on their own career achievements. Those three pitchers will combine to make over $12 million this year while Enright will make the major league minimum. This is the main reason Enright was considered an underdog for a rotation spot. With Duke sidelined, Saunders and Galarraga are battling Aaron Heilman for the final two rotation spots. Heilman signed with the D-backs at a discounted rate of $2 million this year in order to be given a fair chance at the rotation and has a 5.24 ERA over six spring starts.
"Obviously they went out and got some pretty good pitchers, and it wasn't going to be easy," Enright said of winning a rotation spot. "I was fortunate enough to throw well. This isn't the end of the war, this is the beginning. Going forward, you've still got to compete."
At the beginning of March, no one thought that Saunders would need to compete for a rotation spot. His 57 career wins dwarf that of anyone else on the staff (unless Mike Hampton makes the squad) while his $5.5 million salary makes him the second-highest paid Diamondback this season behind second baseman Kelly Johnson.
"I feel like may arm's in good shape," Saunders said. "I just haven't been getting the results."
Results weren't Saunders' primary concern early in the spring. He was working on adding a cut-fastball to his repertoire and throwing more sinkers than he usually does. Now with his hold on a rotation slot more tenuous than previously believed, Saunders will approach his final starts of the spring a little differently.
"I'm not going to go out and experiment maybe like I did the first few starts," confirmed Saunders.
This could be just the wakeup call that Sunders needs to rediscover his 2008-2009 form, when he won over 70% of his decisions and posted an ERA under 3.00. If he can get back on track along with either Galarraga or Heilman, Enright could then be forced to step up his game or find himself once again on the outside of the rotation when Duke is ready to return.
"I'm going to continue to push everyone else, and everyone else is going to push me," Enright concluded.
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