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News » Arizona Diamondbacks Inside Pitch 2009-03-28

Arizona Diamondbacks Inside Pitch 2009-03-28

Arizona Diamondbacks Inside Pitch 2009-03-28
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 outfielder Justin Upton will reclaim that spot.

Stephen Drew, who 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) when he did it in a breakout 2008, 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.

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 RBIs. 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 BIG 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 RBIs while playing regularly in 2005-06, and there is nothing to suggest that his bat cannot return to that level again. 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.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: March 28, 2009

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