Craig Counsell is the key to the Diamondbacks lineup, but Bob Melvin knows he still needs his rest; Shawn Estes' rehab is going well, but will Claudio Vargas be willing to give up his spot in the rotation? Russ Ortiz 'felt great' in his rehab start, despite giving up 11 earned; Tony Clark gets locked up; Grace on Palmeiro.
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DiamondbacksDaily.com
Aug 8, 2005

Scout.com's Inside Pitch

Craig Counsell is the key to the Diamondbacks lineup, but Bob Melvin knows he still needs his rest; Shawn Estes' rehab is going well, but will Claudio Vargas be willing to give up his spot in the rotation? Russ Ortiz 'felt great' in his rehab start, despite giving up 11 earned; Tony Clark gets locked up; Grace on Palmeiro.

Bob Melvin cringes every time he fills out his lineup and it doesn't start with second baseman Craig Counsell at the top of the order. But in an effort to make sure his valuable infielder remains somewhat fresh for the Diamondbacks' stretch run in their hopes to win a division title, Counsell is going to get some time off here and there, as much as it pains his manager.

"It's always tough to take him out of the lineup," Melvin said. "But Alex (Cintron) needs to play some too, especially against left-handed pitching, and at times I feel like I overuse Counsell a little bit. He goes at it very, very hard every day, and I want to make sure he does get his days off."

Counsell responded perfectly a day after getting some rest, tying his career high with five hits in a 9-5 victory over Colorado that enabled the Diamondbacks to avoid an embarrassing sweep at home by the last-place Rockies. He scored three runs and also stole three bases, which gave him 17 for the season and tied his career high. Save for Tony Clark, who has spent most of the season in a part-time role, Counsell has been the Diamondbacks' most valuable player among regular position players.

"He grinds every day. He's out there for nine innings giving it everything he has all the time," Melvin said. "... He gets on base and he fights, fights, fights, and when you have a guy like that who is such a tiger, it rubs off on your other guys. He's just one of those guys you refer to as a 'ballplayer,' and that's quite a compliment."

Counsell, hitting .276 after the series with Colorado, the club that drafted him out of Notre Dame in 1992, has been a catalyst as Arizona's leadoff man. Though he isn't the prototypical No.1 hitter, he manages to do the job by working counts, drawing walks, getting on base and becoming a threat to run. He's hit leadoff in each of the first 99 starts he has made for Arizona this season.

"My job is to get on," he said. "If I don't steal, at least I can be a threat and affect the pitcher and maybe he will lose his concentration."

Defensively, Counsell has been just as important this season. He and double-play partner Royce Clayton have provided steady glove work all season and have been a huge relief to the Diamondbacks' pitching staff.

His range at second is also taking a bit of the pressure off Chad Tracy, who recently moved from first base to right field with the promotion of prospect Conor Jackson. Counsell's ability to motor out to shallow right on pop flies has allowed Tracy to play deeper in his new position, making him more comfortable with the switch.

NOTES, QUOTES

--This is only his first season with the Diamondbacks, but Tony Clark clearly has become one of the club's most recognizable leaders both on the field and in the clubhouse and on Friday, after weeks of discussions and negotiations, the franchise rewarded the 10-year veteran with a two-year contract extension that will keep him with the club through the 2007 season -- and possibly beyond.

Clark, 33, and his family live in Glendale, AZ, and he has expressed an interest in perhaps coaching or managing at some point. But those aspirations are a long way off at the moment.

"Being wanted is obviously pleasing," said Clark. "You're talking about being in one place for longer than one year and that one place happens to be the place where you hang your hat at the end of the day."

Signing Clark now gives the Diamondbacks some relief, as offers likely would have poured in from other clubs if he were able to test the market as a free agent. He's been one of the best clutch hitters in baseball this season and has helped the Diamondbacks remain in contention in the National League West.

His 15 pinch-hit RBIs are one short of the club record.

"I don't know where we'd be without him," manager Bob Melvin said.

--RHP Brandon Webb struck out a season-high 10 batters during Friday's 6-4 loss to visiting Colorado. He allowed one earned run and three hits through seven innings, and was in position to pick up his 10th win of the season following a seventh-inning, two-run triple by Royce Clayton, but the bullpen couldn't hold the lead. "We didn't give him much help," manager Bob Melvin said, as three wild pitches and two errors led to Webb's demise.

--RF Chad Tracy's 16th home run of the season on Friday doubled his season total from last season.

--LHP Shawn Estes played catch with his cleats on for the first time since suffering a stress reaction in his left foot, and threw from a slight angle halfway up the mound. He reported no pain in his foot and no problems with his arm. He is likely one week away from throwing off the mound.

--RHP Oscar Villarreal pitched a scoreless inning of relief in his latest rehab outing at Triple-A Tucson, throwing just 11 pitches.

--RHP Jose Valverde, who earned the save for Arizona on Thursday, had gotten 14 of his last 20 outs via the strikeout.

--Diamondbacks color analyst Mark Grace said Rafael Palmeiro's suspension for violating baseball's steroids policy could have a far-reaching effect that could hinder more than just the Baltimore Orioles star.

"For guys that played in that era, guys like Tony Gwynn, Will Clark, myself and scores of others, we're going to be lumped into that quote-unquote steroids era, and it (stinks)," Grace said. "For guys that were not users, that did everything naturally on God-given ability, it's disappointing it wasn't a level playing field the whole time. ... Whether it's alcohol, tobacco, drugs or all-natural orange juice, you're responsible to know what you're putting in your body."

--The Diamondbacks on Thursday officially announced that Bob Gebhard, 62, has assumed the role of interim general manager following the resignation earlier this week of Joe Garagiola Jr., who stepped down to accept a senior vice president position with Major League Baseball. Gebhard was GM of the Colorado Rockies from 1991 to 1999 and joined the Diamondbacks this year as a vice president and special assistant to Garagiola following the departure of Sandy Alderson to the New York Mets. "I have big shoes to fill. Joe did a heck of a job for 10 years," Gebhard said.

--RHP Russ Ortiz after allowing 11 earned runs during a rehab start at Class A Lancaster on Wednesday: "I didn't throw great, but I felt great." Ortiz, recovering form a stress fracture in his right rib cage, is scheduled to make his third rehab start on Monday for Triple-A Tucson.

--LF Luis Gonzalez made a great catch of a Jason Lane fly ball in the fourth inning of Wednesday's game against Houston and his momentum immediately took him face-first into the left field wall. Gonzalez was shook up a bit, but stayed in the game. Two innings later, he misplayed a base hit sent out to left by Lane and was charged with his first error in 115 games, dating to last July 20 against San Francisco.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Times the Diamondbacks have homered back-to-back in back-to-back games this season, which had only happened once before in franchise history - May 15, 16, 2001 at Cincinnati -- until last weekend against Colorado. One night after Tony Clark and Troy Glaus connected, Conor Jackson and Luis Terrero did the same.

2.75 -- Claudio Vargas' ERA for Arizona in his last eight starts. He's been so efficient for the Diamondbacks, there's talk Shawn Estes might slide into a bullpen role once he returns from a foot injury.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a huge trip. We're playing some tough teams. Are we going to be a team that competes for the playoffs, or the one that's been treading water?" -- 2B Craig Counsell on the Diamondbacks' 12-game trip that takes them to Florida, Atlanta, St. Louis and Cincinnati.