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News » Arizona Diamondbacks Inside Pitch 2009-02-09

Arizona Diamondbacks Inside Pitch 2009-02-09

Arizona Diamondbacks Inside Pitch 2009-02-09
The Diamondbacks spent 153 days in first place in the NL West last season, and while the final day of the regular season was not among them, they did not feel a major overhaul was in order entering 2009.

So, as they did after winning the division in 2007, the D-backs plugged holes. They added second baseman Felipe Lopez, right-hander Jon Garland, right-handed reliever Tom Gordon and lefty specialist Scott Schoeneweis while sticking with the belief that the natural maturation process of a still-young position player group will keep them in contention.

The Diamondbacks' overriding belief is that starting pitching wins pennants, and to that end they signed free agent Garland to replace Randy Johnson in a rotation that is headed by right-handers Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. With left-hander Doug Davis and right-handed prospect Max Scherzer, the team's starters should stack up with any in the league.

The bullpen lost its top arms -- right-handers Brandon Lyon and Juan Cruz -- to free agency, and both were solid setup men who will not be easy to replace. Chad Qualls will close, with fellow right-handers Tony Pena and Jon Rauch as the primary setup men, although both struggled at times last year. Gordon should fill that role as well.

Schoeneweis will get the specialist's role almost by default. The bullpen is the area that is most in flux this spring, although that is a relative term since every other position group is pretty much set.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of outfielder Eric Byrnes, who was the D-backs' most productive position player in 2007, becoming the 11th player in major league history to hit 20 home runs and steal 50 bases in the same season. Then he suffered a hamstring injury last spring training that hampered him the first half of the season and caused him to be shut down for the rest of the year on July 1.

Manager Bob Melvin said Conor Jackson, who moved from first base to replace Byrnes in left field for most of the second half in 2008, will be his starting left fielder. That would limit Byrnes to the occasional spot start in place of center fielder Chris Young or right fielder Justin Upton. Byrnes also could see time in left if Jackson takes a turn at first base to give left-handed-hitting Chad Tracy a day off against a left-hander.

The D-backs lamented the lack of competition last spring, but that should not be a problem with four outfielders in contention for three jobs and a bullpen whose final three spots appear wide open entering camp.

WHERE, WHEN: Tucson Electric Park, Tucson, Ariz. First exhibition game is Feb. 25 against Colorado.

TOP CANDIDATE TO SURPRISE: OF Eric Byrnes showed in 2006 and again in 2007 that he can be among the top power/speed combo threats in the National League when healthy. If his right hamstring has recovered sufficiently from a 3-millimeter tear that caused him to miss the second half of 2008, he certainly has the tools -- and the desire -- to step back into the forefront, never mind the fact that the D-backs shopped him over the winter.

TOP CANDIDATE TO DISAPPOINT: SS Stephen Drew last year became the third shortstop in major league history to have 40 doubles, 10 triples and 20 home runs in the same season, joining Robin Yount and Nomar Garciaparra. As talented as Drew is, it would be unfair to expect that again. Then again, Yount did it twice, so maybe Drew is just beginning to show his stuff.

AUTHORITY FIGURES: Manager Bob Melvin, the NL Manager of the Year in 2007, has been ahead of the curve in his use of statistical analysis -- a reason he is such a good fit with general manager Josh Byrnes -- and he uses those numbers in an attempt to give his players their best chance to succeed. A former major league reserve, Melvin understands the importance of keeping everyone on the roster involved and is a master at it. Pitching coach Bryan Price was Baseball America's minor league coach of the year in 2007, and third base coach Chip Hale is considered one of the best young managing prospects in the game.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: February 9, 2009

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