Justin Upton is an important part of the Diamondbacks' future, which is why they are treating him with such caution now.
Upton has started only twice in the last 18 games since suffering a left shoulder strain on an awkward swing at a high-inside pitch Aug. 30. Upton missed nine games before making a pinch-running appearance September 11 in Colorado, then missed the next game before starting September 13-14 at Cincinnati.
He felt a recurrence of shoulder pain after those games and has not started since, making only one more appearance as a pinch runner September 17. He has stolen second base each time he has pinch-run, although with 17 homers and 17 stolen bases, it appears unlikely that he will have a second consecutive 20-20 season.
"We'd like him in the lineup," interim manager Kirk Gibson said in Pittsburgh, the last stop on the D-backs' 10-game road trip. "I was looking at our record without him, and he's very, very important and influences what goes on. You take him out, and it's a big loss for us. It influences how the other guys in the lineup do."
The D-backs are 6-12 when Upton does not start and 6-15 when he doesn't appear at all..
It is the third time Upton has been affected by a similar shoulder strain. The problem first occurred in 2006, during his first spring training with the team, although this year's occurrence is by far the most serious. He missed one game with the injury last season.
Upton is hitting .273 in 495 at-bats this season, and he is the D-backs' most valuable player in "wins above replacement player" value, at 3.9.
"He's played 132 games this year, and we want him to play more games than that," Gibson said. "It gets more into, how do we keep him healthy? This has happened three years in a row. We've got to do some things differently, and a lot of that is up to him."
--RHP Barry Enright is in no danger of being removed from the rotation despite giving up nine home runs and 17 runs in his last three starts, interim manager Kirk Gibson said. Enright has admitted that fatigue has been a factor in his recent struggles, as his 179.2 combined innings between Double-A and the majors this season exceeds his previous career high of 164.1 innings set in 2008. "He'll be fine. He'll figure it out," Gibson said. Enright, who is scheduled to make two more starts, has thrown only 12 2/3 innings in his last three appearances. He had pitched five innings or more and allowing three runs or fewer in each of his first 12 big-league starts after being recalled from Class AA Mobile on June 30.
--OF Ryan Church has fit in well since being acquired from Pittsburgh on July 31, hitting .286 with five doubles, two home runs and six RBI in 42 at-bats. Church has seven hits in his last 19 at-bats with four doubles and both homers. That combined with his strong outfield play makes Church a strong case for s roster spot in 2011, when the D-backs want a more experienced bench.
--RHP Brandon Webb threw 82 pitches in a bullpen session Saturday in Pittsburgh, and tentative plans are for him to face hitters Wednesday. Webb's goal is to pitch in a game this season. "I know we're getting close," he said. Webb, a free agent this winter, has not pitched since April 6, 2009, when he started opening day against Colorado.
--Workhorse RHP Aaron Heilman has made 66 appearances and is on pace for his fifth consecutive 70-game season. He is one of three major-leaguers with four straight such seasons, and he could stand alone after this year. Minnesota RHP Jon Rauch has only made 56 appearances this year, and RHP Russ Springer has missed much of the season with an injury. Heilman suffered his eighth blown save of the season Sunday when he was unable to hold a 3-1 lead for RHP Daniel Hudson in the eighth inning of a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh.
DIAMOND STAT: 9.31 -- Average strikeouts by Diamondbacks hitters per game through September19, the highest rate in major league history.
QUOTABLE: "There's nothing happy about being in last place. That's the way I look at it. I feel like we've made some progress in some areas, but it's not even close." -- Interim manager Kirk Gibson, whose fate will be decided once a permanent general manager is in place.
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