Arizona Diamondbacks Bullpen Battle

Seven Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers vie for three open bullpen spots this spring. Yusmeiro Petit has all but claimed one of those roles, which would leave a half dozen hurlers competing for the remaining two positions.

The remade Diamondbacks bullpen is still under construction. This much is certain: Chad Qualls will be the closer, Tony Pena and Jon Rauch are penciled in as the primary setup man, and newcomer Scott Schoeneweis will serve as a situational left-handed specialist.

That leaves three spots open, at least until Tom Gordon is ready to come off the disabled list in late April or early May after 2008 elbow surgery, as the D-backs look to find replacements for lost free agents Brandon Lyon (signed with Detroit) and Juan Cruz (signed with Kansas City).

Right-hander Yusmeiro Petit, 24, is considered a top candidate to fill one of the vacancies, both because he can fill the dual role of long reliever/spot starter and also because he is out of options and would have to go through waivers to be sent to the minor leagues. Petit went 3-5 with a 4.31 ERA in 56 1/2 innings last year.

Right-hander Juan Gutierrez, 25, also is out of options. And although he does not have the major league track record of Petit, he has what scouts consider a better arm -- his fastball has been clocked in the low-90 mph range -- and almost certainly would not get through waivers according to scouts who have seen him throw the spring. The D-backs, too, prize inventory.

Others in competition are left-hander Doug Slaten, who spent most of the last two seasons with the D-backs; right-handers Leo Rosales, Billy Buckner and Bobby Korecky and lefty Travis Blackley. Through March 20, Buckner was having the best spring of the group, having posted an ERA of 3.38 in 10.2 innings.  Rosales has an excellent changeup, which makes him tough on left-handed batters.  That attribute could land him a role if Schoeneweis is the only southpaw in the bullpen.  Left-handers Slaten and Blackley have had poor springs thus far, as has the right-handed Korecky.


--RHP Brandon Webb, as expected, will start opening day, confirmed manager Bob Melvin. It will be Webb's fourth consecutive opening-day start. RHP Dan Haren will be No. 2 in the rotation, and he'll be followed by LHP Doug Davis, RHP Jon Garland, and RHP Max Scherzer.

--2B Felipe Lopez (Puerto Rico) and INF Augie Ojeda (Mexico) recently returned to the Diamondbacks after playing in World Baseball Classic, and Ojeda singled in a run in his first game back March 18. Ojeda went 4-for-12 with a double and four RBI in the Classic, but he played only three games. Upon his return, he reported that he did not feel as comfortable as usual at this point of spring training. Lopez went 4-for-18 with a homer and three RBI in five WBC games.

--Ryan Roberts, a non-roster invitee to spring training, benefited from the early absences of Lopez and Ojeda to make a case for a roster spot as reserve infielder/outfielder. Roberts was batting .310 with a team-high five doubles and seven RBI in a team-high 42 at-bats through March 20. He homered, doubled, and drove in three runs on March 17. Roberts, 28, was signed as a minor league free agent during the winter, but is fighting a numbers game on a team may carry only one extra middle infielder, Ojeda.

--RHP Max Scherzer's line in his first spring training game against Oakland on March 17 was not impressive, but the D-backs were not displeased with his start. Scherzer lasted only two-thirds of an inning before reaching his 35-pitch limit, but his fastball was clocked in the mid-90 mph range. While the A's touched him for five runs, only one was earned because of Scherzer's throwing error on a play at the plate. "He feels great," general manager Josh Byrnes said, adding that Scherzer will miss his first turn through the rotation but should be ready the second week of April.

--LHP Doug Davis took the first step toward returning from left triceps pain with 2 1/3 scoreless innings against Milwaukee on March 17. He threw 38 pitches against his former team and is still expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. He is scheduled to make his first start April 8. Davis had not pitched since March 3, when he threw two scoreless innings against San Francisco, then told reporters of a nerve problem that had plagued him for the past five seasons. Davis believes that he can control the issue with medication.

--RHP Tom Gordon, an offseason free agent signee, is expected to get back on the mound this week following October elbow surgery. Gordon, 41, could join the D-backs in late April, general manager Josh Byrnes said. Expected to help stabilize the relief corps, Gordon has spent time on the disabled list in each of the past three seasons, with a strained shoulder (2006), a strained rotator cuff (2007), and elbow inflammation (2008).  "I now have an idea of what it is like to pitch without pain or soreness," Gordon said.

--C Miguel Montero returned to camp March 20 after travelling to Venezuela following the sudden passing of his father, Angel, from a heart attack last week. Montero served as a DH in his first game back.

DIAMOND STAT: .388 -- Combined spring training batting average of 1B Tony Clark and 1B/3B Chad Tracy through March 20.

QUOTABLE: "Chad Tracy has looked good at third base this spring. Tony Clark is swinging the bat well. That will give (manager) Bob (Melvin) a lot of options." -- GM Josh Byrnes.

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