Big Unit Slated for #2 in D-Backs Rotation

Big Unit Slated for #2 in D-Backs Rotation

Randy Johnson's ability to begin the season healthy and effective still isn't certain, but for now, he is set at #2 in the Arizona Diamondbacks' rotation behind ace Brandon Webb.

INSIDE PITCH

Right-hander Dan Haren was the Diamondbacks' prime offseason target and is the only pitcher in the major leagues with at least 34 starts in each of the past three seasons.  Nevertheless, he will be slotted at No. 3 in their starting rotation, at least if the spring plan holds.

The Diamondbacks feel right-hander Brandon Webb, the 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner and the runner-up last year, has earned the right to make his third Opening Day start in a row.

Because the Diamondbacks have the manpower to alternate left-handers and right-handers in the rotation, they will, so Randy Johnson will open the season in the No. 2 spot in the rotation, health providing.

"We're going to be careful with his back," manager Bob Melvin said. "That means probably limiting the amount of swings he takes as well as PFP (pitcher's fielding practice), and you won't see him out there sliding."

Johnson underwent back surgery last August, and the Diamondbacks believe he is progressing on pace, although he has yet to throw off a mound. By being bracketed by innings-eaters Webb and Haren, Johnson would not tax the bullpen if he continues to pitch six innings per start, his limit last season.

Haren, the 2007 All-Star Game starter for the AL, will be followed by lefty Doug Davis, who set a career-high with 13 victories in 2007 and did his best work in the second half, after Johnson was lost for the season.

Micah Owings, third among NL rookies with eight victories last year, will open the season as the No. 5 starter.

NOTES, QUOTES

--LHP Randy Johnson has played a limited amount of catch since undergoing August surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back. He had not thrown off a mound two weeks before the opening of training camp Feb. 15, but the Diamondbacks believe that is his normal style.

--1B/3B Chad Tracy was still waiting for the blood clot in his right leg to dissipate and had not done much running as February began. He appears likely to open the regular season on the disabled list.

--The Diamondbacks have considered signing a player to replace Tracy but do not feel right about signing a veteran only to release or waive him when Tracy is healthy. They are likely to open the season with veteran C/3B/OF Robby Hammock, who has one option remaining, as a reserve.  They could alternatively use 3B/1B/C prospect Jaime D'Antona, who swings a mightier stick, but isn't as steady defensively.

--The Diamondbacks will open spring training with no position spots open, pending Tracy's situation. 2B/SS Augie Ojeda, who signed a $550,000 deal at the winter meetings to avoid arbitration, and OF Jeff Salazar, who is under the team's control, are out of options.

BY THE NUMBERS: $63 million -- On-field payroll this season for the Diamondbacks, who won the NL West with an on-field payroll of just more than $52 million in 2007.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Slates has been in every day working out. He may be limited during Spring Training, but there's still a chance he could be ready by Opening Day." -- Manager Bob Melvin on the status of LHP Doug Slaten, who who underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee at the end of the 2007 season.


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