The D-backs moved to strengthen their middle infield defense and cut down on their strikeouts by acquiring second baseman Aaron Hill and shortstop John McDonald from Toronto for second baseman Kelly Johnson on Tuesday.
Hill is expected to take over for Johnson at second base, while McDonald provides a reliable, veteran alternative to Willie Bloomquist at shortstop. The D-backs had been using Bloomquist and Cody Ransom at shortstop since Stephen Drew suffered a fractured right ankle on July 20, and they feared they were wearing out Bloomquist, who has two hits in his last 27 at-bats. Hill and McDonald are expected to join the D-backs on Wednesday.
Johnson had a career year in 2010 after being non-tendered the previous winter by Atlanta, hitting .284 with 36 doubles, 26 homers, 71 RBI, and 13 stolen bases, but had scuffled this season. He was hitting .209 with 18 homers, 49 RBI and 132 strikeouts and had only eight hits in his last 57 at-bats (.140) before the trade.
"Kind of ran out of patience," D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said. "It had been five months. At this point in time it's a sprint to the finish line. This deal was really made with a focus of how do we get better over the next five weeks and stay in front of the Giants."
The D-backs had lost a season-high six games in a row before beating Washington 2-0 in the second game of a four-game series Tuesday. The D-backs have been in first place ahead of San Francisco in the NL West since August 11, although both teams have struggled recently.
Towers said he believed Hill was a defensive upgrade at second base and that defense was a priority for the club.
"We've actually been throwing the ball very well," elaborated Towers. "Giving us a little more range up the middle is big, and the ability to make contact and draw walks and get on base certainly weighed into it. Hoping maybe a change in scenery will not only spark our ballclub but spark these two guys, getting an opportunity to come to a playoff-contending club."
Hill is hitting .225 with six homers this season after hitting 36 homers in 2009 and 26 in 2010. He will need to impress Towers for the D-backs to exercise their $8 million option on him for 2012.
--RHP Ian Kennedy pitched seven shutout innings to become the first NL pitcher to 16 victories (the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw joined him at 16 a short while later). He also rebounded from a loss in his last start, which was cut to three innings because of a two-hour rain delay in Philadelphia on August 18. Kennedy pitched out of a first-and-second, no-out situation in the fourth and a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the sixth when the game was scoreless. "He's been the leader of that pitching staff for sure," closer J.J. Putz said.
--3B Sean Burroughs' game-winning two-run homer, the 12th homer of his career, was his first since April 30, 2005, when he hit a solo homer in the fifth inning for San Diego against D-backs LHP Shawn Estes. The left-handed hitting Burroughs, who has raised his batting average to .261, has started the last three games against opposing right-handers.
--RF Justin Upton was forced to leave in the last of the fifth inning because of a left elbow contusion that occurred when he was struck by a pitch from Washington RHP Jordan Zimmerman in the top of the fourth inning. "It's a little stiff. Day-to-day. Make sure I can swing a bat without any pain and go from there," said Upton, who has been hit 14 times this season, five by Washington. The Nationals nailed him four times in a four-game series June 2-5 at Chase Field, and new teammate Jason Marquis was thrown out of the June 5 game when he hit Upton after warnings were issued.
--The D-backs arrived at Nationals Park about an hour before the scheduled 7 p.m. EDT start Tuesday because of an earthquake that registered 5.8 on the Richter scale in Washington, D.C. Their bus was stuck in traffic, and players were told not to take taxicabs because of the gridlock. "I was in Nordstrom, and the manager was telling everybody to leave," RHP J.J. Putz said. "Earthquake while at lunch was not cool," RHP David Hernandez said in a tweet. The D-backs had planned to arrive late since manager Kirk Gibson canceled batting practice Tuesday following a 4-1 loss on Monday night.
--C Henry Blanco has six home runs in only 83 at-bats in his first season with the D-backs, his highest homer total since he had a career-high 10 for Minnesota in 315 at-bats in 2004. Blanco had 11 homers in 454 at-bats in his previous three seasons.
DIAMOND STAT: 2,305 -- Days between major league home runs by 3B Sean Burroughs, who hit the game-winner Tuesday.
QUOTABLE: "He's been the leader of that pitching staff for sure." -- Closer J.J. Putz on RHP Ian Kennedy, who became the first NL pitcher to 16 victories Tuesday.
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