The Diamondbacks entered spring training with a roster that greatly resembled the one that led the NL West or was tied for the division lead for 154 days last season before fading down the stretch. They believed only a few tweaks were in order while again hoping that the natural maturation process would help a forward push.
The D-backs are built around a strong rotation headed by Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, but injury issues dogged two other starting pitchers this spring. Doug Davis (triceps) and Max Scherzer (shoulder) missed time, and free agent acquisition Jon Garland was ineffective. Assuming everyone is healthy, the rotation remains the strength of the team and alone makes the D-backs a contender in the suspect NL West.
Second baseman Felipe Lopez, a free agent acquisition, is the only new position starter, replacing Orlando Hudson, who signed a free agent deal with the Dodgers. Adam Dunn, a rent-a-regular in the outfield and at first base the last six weeks of 2008, moved on, and a healthy Justin Upton will reclaim right field.
Last year's leadoff hitter, Stephen Drew, became the third shortstop in major league history to collect 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 home runs in the same season (Robin Yount, Nomar Garciaparra) in a breakout 2008 season. He will be moved into the No. 3 spot in the order. That should give him more opportunities to hit with runners on base.
Left fielder/first baseman Conor Jackson and catcher Chris Snyder had their best offensive seasons a year ago, and the D-backs believe center fielder Chris Young and Upton are at the stage of their careers when they can take the next step forward, too. However, Upton was hitting .190 without a home run entering the final week of spring training.
First baseman/third baseman Chad Tracy could be a key component. He will start at first but could spell third baseman Mark Reynolds to give Reynolds a break against tough righties. Reynolds set a major league record with 204 strikeouts in 2008 but was asked to develop a better two-strike approach, and the early results were positive.
Outfielder Eric Byrnes is the wild card. He missed the last half of 2008 with a hamstring injury but could force his way into the lineup if he regains the form that made him the 11th player in major league history to amass 20 homers and 50 stolen bases in the same year when he did that in 2007. He can play all three outfield positions at a high level.
The D-backs lost reliable right-handers Brandon Lyon and Juan Cruz from their bullpen and replaced them with righty Tom Gordon (elbow) and lefty specialist Scott Schoeneweis, but it remains to be seen if the new unit can be as cohesive as the 2007-08 group was.
THE DIAMONDBACKS WILL CONTEND IF ...: RHP Brandon Webb and RHP Dan Haren are the dominating front-end-of-the-rotation starters they were in 2008. SS Stephen Drew handles the No. 3 spot in the order the way he handled the leadoff spot last season. OF Justin Upton plays the whole season the way he played in April 2008, when he .340 with five homers and 15 RBI (He finished the season with 15 homers). RHP Chad Qualls can handle the closer's job (He has never held the job at the start of a season before).
PRIMED FOR A REBOUND SEASON: 1B/3B Chad Tracy, who struggled with injuries to both knees the past two seasons, could make a big splash with a return to health. He had 75 doubles, 47 home runs and 152 RBI while playing regularly in 2005-06, and was hitting .413 through 17 spring contests. Tracy will start at first base, his best position, and he could play third to give Mark Reynolds a rest against some right-handers.
ON THE DECLINE: RHP Jon Garland's strikeouts have decreased in each of his past four seasons, and his walks have increased in each of the last three, a trend that does not bode well for a pitcher entering his 10th major league season. Garland won 18 games in 2005 and 2006 but is only 24-21 the last two seasons combined. He signed a one-year, $6.25 million contract with a mutual option for $10 million in 2010. He was not particularly effective this spring, but attributed it to pitch experimentation.
--OF Eric Byrnes had seven hits in his first 16 spring at-bats, with two doubles and only one strikeout, after finally getting back on the field March 20. Byrnes seemed to pass his biggest test in recovering from hamstring issues by attempting two stolen bases -- one successful, one not. He also appeared to have no adverse effects from sprinting after two long balls hit over his head in center field.
--SS Stephen Drew left the March 21 game with an abdominal strain and missed a week, although the team was idle one of those days. Drew received an ultrasound treatment from team physician Michael Lee on March 26 and was cleared to play. He took batting and infield practice March 27 but had not returned to a game. He does not have a spring home run after hitting .291 with 21 homers and 67 RBIs last year.
--2B Felipe Lopez has seen his stolen-base total decline from 44 in 2006 to 24 in 2007 to eight in 2008, but he plans to be more active on the bases this season with help from bench coach Kirk Gibson, who believes in an aggressive style. Lopez, who will hit leadoff, stole his first two bases of the spring March 26 against the White Sox.
--LHP Doug Davis made his third spring start March 24 against San Francisco and went 2 2/3 innings, reporting no pain from a sore left triceps that caused him to miss his two previous turns. Davis had pitched only 8 1/3 innings this spring, but after throwing 56 pitches against the Giants and with more spring starts remaining, he believes he will be ready for his first scheduled regular-season start on April 8.
--RHP Brandon Webb made his last start of the spring March 26 against the White Sox, giving up one earned run on five hits in six innings. He struck out four and walked one. He last scheduled spring start would have been March 31 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he will pitch in a minor league game instead so as to avoid a second start against the division rival.
DIAMOND STAT: 0 -- Home runs by SS Stephen Drew, LF/1B Conor Jackson, 1B/3B Chad Tracy, and OF Justin Upton entering the final week of spring training.
QUOTABLE: "That was my best outing in like four years in spring training." --- RHP Brandon Webb, who gave up one earned run to the White Sox in six innings March 26. Webb entered the game with an 8.18 Cactus League ERA after posting an 8.50 ERA last spring.
The Diamondbacks got good news on one front during spring training when OF Eric Byrnes hit well and showed no signs of the hamstring injuries that bothered him all of last season and caused him to miss the second half. He still will begin the season as the fourth outfielder, but with health will see a lot of time. RHP Max Scherzer entered spring training with a cranky right shoulder, and he will be pushed back from his first scheduled start.
1. RHP Brandon Webb
2. RHP Dan Haren
3. LHP Doug Davis
4, RHP Jon Garland
5. RHP Max Scherzer
ROTATION ANALYSIS: Webb and Haren were arguably the best 1-2 punch in the National League last season, combining for 38 victories and 47 quality starts. Each was the NL Pitcher of the Month once, and Webb became the second pitcher since 1920 to win his first nine starts. Davis and newcomer Garland have been dependable, durable veterans in the past, although Davis missed six weeks last season after having a cancerous thyroid removed in April. Garland saw his strikeout total dip for the fourth consecutive year with the Angels last season. Scherzer showed a power arm in spot duty as a rookie last season. While he will begin the season on the DL until April 14, when the club first needs the No. 5 spot in the rotation, his ceiling is that of a staff ace. There is not much veteran depth at the top minor league levels.
RHP Chad Qualls (closer)
RHP Tony Pena
RHP Jon Rauch
LHP Scott Schoeneweis
RHP Juan Gutierrez
RHP Yusmeiro Petit
RHP Leo Rosales
BULLPEN ANALYSIS: Qualls took the closer's job from departed free agent Brandon Lyon in the September stretch run and converted all seven save opportunities down the stretch. He has a plus sinker and can induce groundball after groundball, a reason the D-backs used him in the seventh and eighth innings early last season for his ability to clean up potential rallies. Pena has been up and down his last two seasons, and Rauch blew up in his final month with D-backs after starting strong following his mid-summer acquisition from Washington. Questions remain about their ability to replace underappreciated Lyon and hard-thrower Juan Cruz, although RHP Tom Gordon should help when he returns in May. Schoeneweis is a proven specialist, but the jury is out on the rest of the relievers, although Petit has pitched well as a spot starter the last two seasons. Gutierrez has never had the results his arm and stuff would suggest. He will likely get the final bullpen spot over Billy Buckner because he is out of minor league options, although Buckner has consistently displayed an ability to retire advanced hitters.
1. 2B Felipe Lopez
2. CF Chris Young
3. SS Stephen Drew
4. LF Conor Jackson
5. RF Justin Upton
6. 1B Chad Tracy
7. 3B Mark Reynolds
8. C Chris Snyder
LINEUP ANALYSIS: The D-backs have not had a prototype leadoff hitter in their 11 seasons, although Tony Womack did provide speed at the top in his time. They will try newcomer Lopez, at least at the start of the season. Drew had his career year while hitting leadoff the second half of 2008, but the D-backs want him in a more productive spot this season. The D-backs will have production throughout the order, but it is a somewhat miscast crew. Young has the speed to hit second but strikes out too much. Jackson hits for average, not so much for power. Upton has the most upside but has shown it only in bunches. Reynolds has light-tower power, but he also chases pitches. He set a major league record with 204 strikeouts last season. Snyder is about as good of an eighth hitter as you can ask for in the National League.
C Miguel Montero
1B Tony Clark
INF Augie Ojeda
OF Eric Byrnes
C James Skelton
RESERVES ANALYSIS: Clark provides help in several areas. Not only is he a proven veteran who accepts his role -- primary pinch hitter/occasional first baseman -- but also he is a positive clubhouse presence for the still-young group of position players. Byrnes is the backup at all three outfield positions and will play against left-handed pitchers when the D-backs want to give Chad Tracy a break and put Conor Jackson at first base. Versatile Ojeda was the only NL infielder to play at least 30 games at second base, shortstop and third base last season, and he brings a strong glove to all three spots. Montero is a terrific hitter and could be used more in a pinch-hit role if Skelton, a Rule 5 acquisition, makes the team. Skelton iss battling with 1B Josh Whitesell and INF Ryan Roberts for the final roster spot.
ROOKIE WATCH: The D-backs pushed guys like Justin Upton and Max Scherzer through the system so quickly that their best prospects have been on the field for some time now and are no longer rookie-eligible. Whitesell is ready to hit big league pitching now, but the return of Tony Clark likely relegates Whitesell to Triple-A until an injury opens a spot on the 25-man roster. LHP Daniel Schlereth, Arizona's first-round draft pick in 2008, could be fast-tracked to help the bullpen. He throws in the mid-90s and has been raised as a reliever. OF Gerardo Parra is Diamondbacks' best position-player prospect and enjoyed his second strong spring in big league camp, but his road is blocked. RHP Jarrod Parker, the team's 2007 first-round draft pick out of high school, is still years away.
RHP Tom Gordon (right elbow surgery in October 2008) did not throw off a mound until a month into spring training. He is not expected back in the major leagues until early May.
RHP Max Scherzer (shoulder stiffness) took a cortisone shot before spring training started and was delayed in his spring work. He begins the season on the DL, but is expected to make his first regular season on April 14 because the D-backs have an off day the first week.
OF Eric Byrnes (hamstrings) did not play his first spring training game until mid-March, but he reported no ill effects.
LHP Doug Davis (sore left triceps) missed two spring starts, but he was expected to be ready for the start of the season.
SS Stephen Drew (abdominal strain) left the March 21 game. He was expected to return to action in late March.
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