D'Backs Inside Pitch

D'Backs Inside Pitch

News, notes, quotes, trades, injuries and the best news of all...spring training has finally begun in Tucson for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Scout.com catches you up on the offseason, and preps you for the coming weeks.

INSIDE PITCH
   Craig Counsell's injured right shoulder likely will keep him sidelined
longer than the original seven to 10 days the team projected on March 1.
   Counsell, who has been diagnosed with a slight labrum tear, was expected
to receive a cortisone injection during the weekend and then after a few
more days of rest, resume partial baseball activities. But manager Bob
Melvin said things are getting pushed back.
   Now, the shortstop probably won't get the cortisone shot until Wednesday
and his return is a little up in the air.
   "It will probably be a little while for him," Melvin said Sunday. "After
he gets his shot, probably two or three days to calm that down and then some
work before. My timetable is, hopefully, I can get him in sometime around
the off-day, which is the 15th.
   "Every day he's still taking groundballs and physically he's staying
sharp. He just can't do anything with his throwing shoulder or hit. But he's
taking groundballs every day. He's doing exercises."
   With Counsell sidelined and Alex Cintron participating in the World
Baseball Classic with Puerto Rico, Melvin has been splitting the shortstop
duties between Damion Easley, Stephen Drew, Brian Barden, Jerry Gil and
Alberto Callaspo, with 18-year-old prospect Justin Upton getting closer to
making a start.
   "I'm just going to pick my spot (with Upton)," Melvin said. "He's gotten
himself some at-bats to where he's comfortable with all that. The next step
is to move him in defensively. Sometimes, that can be a little more
difficult for an 18-year-old. We'll get him in there when we think the
time's appropriate."

NOTES, QUOTES
   --SS Stephen Drew was scratched from Saturday's game against the White
Sox after suffering a bruised left shoulder the day before while sliding
headfirst into third base. He was examined by team physician Michael Lee and
was listed as day to day.
   "I didn't really feel it during the game," he said. "I went home and
that's when I noticed it. It kind of got stiff on me."
   Manager Bob Melvin guessed Drew probably wouldn't be available until
Wednesday.
   --OF Carlos Quentin has had some discomfort in his right elbow, which was
limiting his availability. Quentin underwent Tommy John surgery on the elbow
in 2003.
   --INF Damion Easley was back in the lineup Saturday after suffering a
slight concussion during Arizona's Cactus League opener March 2 against the
White Sox. Easley was playing first base and took a throw up the line when
he collided with baserunner Donny Lucy. Easley stayed in the game for the
final out of the inning, but doesn't remember a thing.
   "I can laugh about it now, but thinking back on it, that's kind of scary
because somebody could have hit me a ball for that third out and I don't
know what would have happened," he said.
   --1B Chris Carter, a late non-roster invitee to camp, is one of many
prospects in the system turning heads.
   "As far as swinging the bat, he's pretty close to big-league ready,"
manager Bob Melvin said. "He's got a great eye, has a great understanding of
his strength and weaknesses, which for younger guys sometimes can be a
problem. They think they can hit everything. He has a good idea, gets a good
ball to hit, and certainly takes a good rip at it. Just getting him
comfortable defensively is something we're working through right now."
   --INF Brian Barden is another prospect impressing the coaching staff.
Said manager Bob Melvin, "He can play anywhere on the infield. We haven't
said a whole lot about him this camp, but as far as the coaches go, he's one
of our favorite guys. You throw him in there at any position and you know
you're going to get a guy who's going to defend at a plus level. And he can
swing. You can do the little things with him. He can bunt, hit and run, hits
the ball the other way."
  QUOTE TO NOTE: "I feel I could really swing it if I had to, but we've got
enough time to where let's take a conservative approach to get it as good as
it's going to be until it counts. Because basically, it doesn't count right
now." -- Shortstop Craig Counsell, sidelined with a small labrum tear in his
right throwing shoulder, on missing up to the first two weeks of Cactus
League games.

ROSTER REPORT
   Arizona added more infield depth by trading RHP Jason Bulger to the
Angels for SS/2B Alberto Callaspo, a switch-hitter who, for the past two
seasons, was the toughest player in the minor leagues to strike out, fanning
once for every 20.4 plate appearance in 2005.
   ARRIVALS: RHP Miguel Batista (trade with Toronto), 2B Orlando Hudson
(trade with Toronto), CF Eric Byrnes (free agent from Baltimore), RHP
Orlando Hernandez (trade with White Sox), RHP Luis Vizcaino (trade with
White Sox), C Johnny Estrada (trade with Atlanta), LHP Jason Grimsley (free
agent from Baltimore), INF Damion Easley (free agent from Florida), LHP
Terry Mulholland (minor league free agent from Minnesota), OF Jeff DaVanon
(free agent from Angels), LHP Felix Heredia (minor league free agent from
Mets), SS/2B Alberto Callaspo (trade with Angels).
   DEPARTURES: 3B Troy Glaus (traded to Toronto), RHP Javier Vazquez (traded
to White Sox), RHPs Oscar Villarreal and Lance Cormier (traded to Atlanta),
RHP Tim Worrell (free agent, signed with San Francisco), C Kelly Stinnett
(free agent, signed with New York Yankees), OF Quinton McCracken (outrighted
to Triple-A Tucson, elected free agency, signed with Cincinnati), LHP Shawn
Estes (free agent, signed with San Diego), SS Royce Clayton (free agent,
signed with Washington), LHP Michael Gosling (claimed on waivers by
Cincinnati), RHP Jason Bulger (traded to Angels).
   PROJECTED ROTATION: Outside of RHP Brandon Webb, there isn't a lot to
scare opposing teams with this bunch. At least at the moment. Webb inherits
the No. 1 duties from Javier Vazquez, who was dealt to the White Sox, and
the sinkerball pitcher must be able to handle the pressure and live up to or
exceed expectations. There's a great race for the final spot, with LHP Brad
Halsey and RHP Dustin Nippert likely battling RHP Claudio Vargas. Pitching
coach Bryan Price wants this group to chew up innings, but he'll have his
work cut out for him.
   --RHP Brandon Webb has three decent seasons under his belt and is coming
into his own as one of the most unheralded star pitchers in the game. He's
still learning but has managed to cut down on his walks and sharpen his
strength, which is getting groundball outs. He had 22 quality starts in
2005.
   --RHP Russ Ortiz endured in 2005 the worst statistical season of his
major league career; included was his first trip to the disabled list (rib
fracture). He's cut down on his weight and has honed in on some delivery
issues, but with Ortiz, it's usually always about confidence. He'll need a
ton of it this year to have the bounce-back season he and the team so
desperately need.
   --RHP Miguel Batista spent last season as Toronto's closer and will be
asked to return to the rotation in Arizona, where he pitched with some
effectiveness in the past. Making the switch shouldn't be too difficult for
the aspiring writer as long as he remembers the fastball is mightier than
the pen.
   --RHP Orlando Hernandez figures to be wild card of the bunch here, for
many reasons. If he's healthy and has the bite he often has shown in the
past, then he can dominate. But how often will he be that type of pitcher?
He's on the back end of his career, and injuries and age will work against
him, but when he's on, he's on.
   --RHP Claudio Vargas is often called the "Human Rain Delay" for his
methodical work between pitches, but that not only frustrates his teammates
behind him in the field, it also works against opposing hitters and their
timing. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he throws his pitches with
conviction and performs with a lot of pride every time out.
   PROJECTED BULLPEN: One of the weakest points in the Diamondbacks' chain a
year ago has been modified and adjusted, but "strengthened" remains to be
seen. RHP Jose Valverde has been named the closer and has some decent young
setup man in front of him in RHPs Brandon Medders, Greg Aquino and Brandon
Lyon. Problem is, they're inexperienced and have had arm problems, just like
Valverde. Arizona picked up a potential gem in RHP middle reliever Luis
Vizcaino and has some veteran backup help in RHP Jason Grimsley and LHP
Terry Mulholland, the only southpaw in the mix unless Randy Choate
surprises, but the relievers figure to face some long nights if an otherwise
average rotation can't pitch past the fourth or fifth inning, which has been
a trademark lately in Arizona.
   --RHP Jose Valverde is a flame thrower with gusto and a whole lot of
pizzazz. Sometimes, his antics can offend, but that's his style and it
works. He just has to get serious about his career and it could take off.
   --RHP Brandon Medders got fast-tracked to the majors because of so many
injuries and inconsistencies in the bullpen last season, and he didn't
disappoint. Manager Bob Melvin loves his tenacity and eagerness, and Medders
pitched like a veteran in some tough situations, not like a wide-eyed
rookie. He's the top candidate for setup duties and can close if Jose
Valverde struggles or gets hurt.
   --RHP Greg Aquino was the anointed closer to start 2005, but arm problems
and a bout with wildness shelved those plans rather quickly. Once a
shortstop in the Diamondbacks' farm system, Aquino has a fantastic fastball
that regularly hits 98 mph and higher, but he almost seems a bit too affable
and un-hungry at times on the mound.
   --RHP Brandon Lyon could be a wild card in manager Bob Melvin's eyes.
Lyon was leading the majors in saves at one point early last season until
elbow problems, a recurring theme, struck once again. He likely will be
monitored closely this spring, but if he's strong, he can be a two-inning
man and, like Brandon Medders and Greg Aquino, he can fill in for Jose
Valverde whenever needed. Lyon has four pitches and can throw any of them at
any time.
   --RHP Luis Vizcaino is a steady reliever who comes over from the White
Sox in the trade involving Javier Vazquez, and he has a history for being
able to log appearances without getting tired or hurt. He'll provide some
much needed calmness in a group that still features a lot of young arms.
   --RHP Jason Grimsley helps fill some leadership qualities and brings
experience to the pen. His role could change, depending how others pitch,
not so much how he pitches. With Grimsley, what you see is what you get. He
can help, though.
   --LHP Terry Mulholland turns 41 this spring, but the Diamondbacks
desperately needed a left-hander and, OK, so Mulholland is a non-roster
invitee. Unless he breaks his arm, he'll land on the 25-man roster and be
used in long relief and as an occasional spot starter when needed.
   PROJECTED LINEUP: On paper, the lineup isn't all that bad, but there are
questions. Can Craig Counsell be sharp after being switched from second to
short, and can he still bat leadoff? Will Conor Jackson handle the pressure
of playing first base ahead of Tony Clark? Can LF Luis Gonzalez return to
form? And by the way, who's going to replace the 39 home runs hit last
season by Troy Glaus? There could be a power outage this season at Chase
Field. Defensively, however, this group is fairly solid.
   --SS Craig Counsell played like the club's MVP for much of last season,
steady at both ends, but in a perfect world, many agree he could serve the
Snakes best in a super-utility role.
   --2B Orlando Hudson won the first of what figures to be many Gold Gloves
last season, and he'll be a favorite of sinkerball pitcher Brandon Webb.
Hudson can deliver some offense, but just be happy with his defense, which
is second to none.
   --3B Chad Tracy hit .308 last season in his second year in the majors
and, surprisingly, put up some decent power numbers with 27 homers and 72
RBIs. He's Arizona's best hitter and figures to supplant Luis Gonzalez in
the No. 3 hole, although manager Bob Melvin's projected lineup is unclear.
   --RF Shawn Green kind of went under the radar last season, but he's a
dependable sort who is capable of bigger numbers than what he put up.
Arizona will need it, too. Green's happy and gets to slide back to right
field after playing center the second half of 2005.
   --1B Conor Jackson has the full support of the coaching staff and has
been given the starting job after tearing up Triple-A pitching. His first
taste of the majors wasn't so sweet, but he'll be given every chance to
learn on the job and gain confidence. If he falters, Tony Clark is there to
bail him out.
   --LF Luis Gonzalez guaranteed he'd be in the best shape of his life this
spring and is eager to prove his skeptics wrong about this being his last
year in Arizona. That's what the contract says, but Gonzo hasn't been
healthy for the last few years and now that he is, he's planning a monster
2006. If he keeps the average up, Arizona can live with 25 or so homers.
   --CF Eric Byrnes jokingly referred to himself as a golden retriever in
the outfield, and, quite frankly, that's what the high-energy player looks
like at times when chasing down balls. But he's fun to watch, provides a lot
of spark and will give you his most loyal effort at the plate. A decent
acquisition, if only for a year until prospect Chris Young steps into the
spotlight.
   --C Johnny Estrada was the first piece to the overhaul conducted by new
GM Josh Byrnes, and assuming he doesn't still feel the aftershocks from that
nasty collision with Darin Erstad at home plate last season, he gives
Arizona an upgrade at every angle over last year's starter, Chris Snyder.
   PROJECTED RESERVES: The Diamondbacks' bench is dangerous in that backup
first baseman Tony Clark, he of the 30 home runs and 87 RBIs in just 349
at-bats a year ago, occupies one-fifth of it. Behind him, there's some depth
in veteran Damion Easley, outfielder Jeff DaVanon and utility man Alex
Cintron, but it's not as strong as it could be.
   --1B Tony Clark had a revival in 2005 and was the Diamondbacks' leader at
every turn, even in a bench role during the first half of the season.
Sitting him for Conor Jackson is a gutsy move, especially after Arizona
signed him to a two-year extension.
   --INF-OF Damion Easley can offer spot starts at all four corner positions
and still has some magic left in his bat, which he shows on occasion. He's
valuable in that he is versatile.
   --OF Jeff DaVanon signed on late in somewhat of a surprise, although the
Diamondbacks have liked him for a while. He figures to split some time in
center with Eric Byrnes but can spell corner outfielders Luis Gonzalez and
Shawn Green, too. His addition means Luis Terrero could be out of the mix.
   --INF Alex Cintron is still considered trade bait, but he's been a good
soldier in biding his time the last few years, often coming up with some big
games at just the right time. His defense is sporadic but improving. Still,
his time may be running out in Arizona, with a spot on the bench likely
earmarked instead to utility man Andy Green.
   --C Chris Snyder was one of manager Bob Melvin's favorites last season
after he wrestled the starting job away from Opening Day starter Koyie Hill.
But Snyder, even though he appears mature beyond his years in calling games
and handling the pitching staff, struggled at the plate and will have to
polish that end of his game to be a starter again.
   TOP ROOKIES: 1B Conor Jackson hit .354 with 73 RBIs and just 32
strikeouts in 333 at-bats for Triple-A Tucson before his second-half
promotion. He hit just .200 in 85 at-bats for the Diamondbacks but enters
spring training as the starting first baseman and will be given every
opportunity to gain confidence. SS Stephen Drew is on the 40-man roster, and
although he probably won't break camp with Arizona, he'll be in the majors
before long. Drew hit .389 in 149 at-bats at Class A Lancaster before
slowing down upon reporting to Double-A Tennessee (.218 in 101 at-bats).
Still, he's deemed to be just about major league ready, which half a season
in Tucson should reveal.
   SPRING FOCUS: The top three scenarios to watch: How will the rotation
shake out after Brandon Webb and Russ Ortiz? (Could Orlando Hernandez or
Miguel Batista -- or both -- wind up in the bullpen?) Can Conor Jackson
handle the pressure of playing every day at first base ahead of Tony Clark?
Who's going to produce the power? (Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green will be
leaned upon, but Jackson and 3B Chad Tracy might have to step it up for
Arizona to stay in games.)
   MEDICAL WATCH: CF Chris Young (broken bone in right hand) underwent
surgery and is expected to miss the bulk of spring training. C Johnny
Estrada has recovered nicely from a bad concussion suffered last season in a
home plate collision with the Angels' Darin Erstad. LF Luis Gonzalez is
close to 100 percent following Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow in
2004. OF Scott Hairston (shoulder surgery) should be cleared in time for
spring training. 2B Orlando Hudson (foot) is healthy. SS Craig Counsell
(small labrum tear) is out at least 10 days but shouldn't need surgery.
 

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