Arizona Diamondbacks 7, Colorado Rockies 6

Arizona Diamondbacks 7, Colorado Rockies 6

Cactus League record: 1-0. Change on 2018: +1

As I mentioned on Twitter, so much for that “pace of play” thing. The first game for the D-backs in the Cactus League this year required fourteen minutes short of four hours to complete. Of course, part of that was the game going extra innings, and thus the sides combining to use nineteen different pitchers this afternoon at Salt River Fields.

A lot of the excitement here happened late. The game was tied at four going into the ninth, before a Daniel Robertson sacrifice fly scored Galli Cribbs to give the D-backs their first lead of the game. But Joel Payamps was unable to close things out, as his lead-off hit by pitch came around to score in the last of the ninth. RBI singles by Cribbs and Robertson in the top of the 10th then gave Arizona back the lead. Bradin Hagens gave one of those runs right back, allowing a lead-off homer in the bottom half, then a pair of two out singles before getting a called strike three to send the away fans home happy. Even though they were playing in their own ballpark.

Welcome to spring training, folks. For if you’re going “Who?” for most of the above paragraph, you’re likely not alone, and will be forgiven. The names you’d recognize were largely gone after two at-bats: Jeremy Hazelbaker received a bonus trip to the plate, perhaps a reward for hitting Arizona first home-run, a solo shot in the third inning (above). Beyond that, however, runs were hard to come by for the Diamondbacks. The bulk of the scoring came from a three-run homer off the bat of catcher Michael Perez, with nobody out in the seventh. Cribbs had a pair of hit, Chris Owings drew two walks as today’s DH and Yasmany Tomas reached twice with a hit and a walk.

However, we also got the first Tomastake of 2018, when the left-fielder mis-played a single in the second inning, letting it get past him, an error which cost his team a run. That was unearned on Matt Koch, one of two runs he allowed over his 1.2 innings of work: he permitted two hits and a walk. The game also saw the debuts in Sedona Red of Fernando Salas and Brad Boxberger: they worked a hitless fourth and sixth inning respectively. However, Silvino Bracho and Andrew Chafin each allowed a run in their first spring appearances.

It’s back at Salt River Fields tomorrow, for our “home” debut against the Cleveland Indians. Zack Godley starts for Arizona, with a 1:10pm first pitch.

Arizona Diamondbacks slugger Christian Walker keeps running into walls at first base

Arizona Diamondbacks slugger Christian Walker keeps running into walls at first base

Behind every door of Christian Walker’s wild walk through the major leagues thus far, there has been a wall. Considering the position he plays and the four different organizations that, however briefly, acquired his services, the wall hasn’t just been any wall.

It’s been more like the Hoover Dam at every stop.

That’s what happens, though, when you’re a power-hitting first baseman and you just happen to be stuck, in order, behind sluggers like Chris Davis in Baltimore, Freddie Freeman in Atlanta, Joey Votto in Cincinnati and now Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona.

That’s a combined 866 career home runs and 13 All-Star appearances worth of wall log-jamming Walker’s path to the majors as an everyday player. But you know what? He doesn’t care. And he doesn’t feel the least bit sorry for himself, either, even though he probably should.

“I know hitting is going to be my ticket, so if I can keep doing that and showing them that I belong here, that’s all I’m worried about,” said Walker, 26, who was named the Pacific Coast League’s Most Valuable Player last season after batting .309 at Triple-A Reno, leading all minor leaguers with 114 RBIs and 104 runs scored, finishing second with 159 hits, 32 home runs and a .980 OPS, and ranking third overall with a .597 slugging percentage.

Those numbers, haven’t been able to help win him a full-time job in the majors just yet.

Maybe if he hadn’t kept landing in spots with established, cornerstone first basemen, it would have already happened. He isn’t confounded, though, by being stuck behind Davis, Freeman, Votto and Goldschmidt.

“No. Not at all,” Walker said. “In the moment, you kind of look at the big picture and it might seem frustrating, but at the same time, there’s so many ways to get into the big leagues and show my worth that I don’t really get caught up in it.

“I’ve just got to do what I can do and hopefully, it translates.”

The good news for Walker is that he made himself more versatile by transitioning into an everyday left fielder two years ago, while also learning how to man third base in addition to first.

The bad news, of course, is that the Diamondbacks just acquired themselves two brand new outfielders in Steven Souza and Jarrod Dyson, giving Arizona at least five capable starters for three spots and once again, creating yet another logjam for Walker.

Not that he isn’t used to that.

“What it means is we’ve got some really good baseball players,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “Christian Walker is a quality bat and somebody that probably could get some time, more time, if he didn’t have a guy named Paul Goldschmidt playing in front of him every single day.

“We’re very fortunate we have Christian, though, and he’s going to continue to plow away, get some opportunities and show us what he can do.”

Walker just shrugged his shoulders and smiled when asked about the additions of Souza and Dyson. He said he still likes his chances to eventually find a home with Arizona, even though the outfield now looks like it’s blocked, too.

“There’s a lot of moves made, especially at this time of year leading into the season,” he said. “But I do feel good about it. I like it here, I’m happy here, and I hope I can contribute to this team.”

Walker played about 100 innings at third base last year and said he feels almost as comfortable there now as he does in left field. First base, though, will have to wait, and he knows it. Maybe there will be an opening in a couple of years if Goldschmidt is allowed to test the free-agent market. Maybe a move to yet another team might be in his best interests.

For now, he’ll likely get plenty of at-bats at Reno and play first base until the Diamondbacks call upon him to help break some windows.

“Everywhere I’ve been, the guys in front of me were really great,” Walker said. “They were great about things and were always really nice. I spent the most time in Baltimore and I had a great relationship with Chris Davis. I wasn’t in Atlanta too long, but yeah, everybody has been really helpful.

“Paul has been incredibly helpful to me. It’s nice to have a seasoned first baseman who’s played at this level to bounce ideas off of and talk it up with.”

At some point, Walker figures the walls will come down. Until then, he plans on trying to break through them, using his bat to smash them down one swing at a time.

“I know what I can do and what I’m capable of,” he said “I know it will be valuable to a big-league team. I would love for it to be this team, so that’s what I’m focused on right now. I want to help this team win, for sure.”

Spring Training Game: D-Backs open Cactus League play against Rockies Friday

Diamondbacks spring training 2018: D-Backs schedule and Cactus League game info

Charity: Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt thankful for bowling turnout

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Reach McManaman at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Wednesday night between 7-9 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.

 

 

Snake Bytes, 2/23: Wave your cacti in the air, like you just don't care!

Snake Bytes, 2/23: Wave your cacti in the air, like you just don't care!

Team news

[MLB] Now healthy, Koch set to start Cactus opener – “Excited for him,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “All the work he’s been putting in. Last year was a lean year for him because of some injuries that he walked through early, so we felt like it would be special for him to start tomorrow and get a new start to the 2018 season.” Lovullo said he didn’t know who else was scheduled to pitch in the game. Most regulars, such as Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, will not play until Saturday, but Chris Herrmann will catch, Chris Owings will serve as the designated hitter and Ketel Marte will play shortstop.

[AZ Central] Peralta’s journey serves as inspiration – Peralta has become something of a fan favorite in Arizona. His batting stance is full of attitude, starting with how he leans back in his stance before the first pitch, like a gladiator readying for battle. He is full of energy, exuberance and relentless ambition. When he singled in his first playoff at-bat against the Rockies in the wild-card playoff, eventually scoring on Paul Goldschmidt’s home run, he felt “like my heart was about to burst with joy.” Peralta played in 140 games last season, and is hell-bent on staying healthy, pushing his career to new levels. He can’t replace what Martinez gave the Diamondbacks in 2017, but he understands the most important lesson of all: Anything is possible when you dare to dream big.

[Arizona Sports] D-backs’ commitment to winning shows in spending, payroll figure – Per Spotrac.com, the total salary figure sits at $130,370,000, including Shelby Miller (disabled list) and the minor-league deals that could be locked in for pitchers Antonio Bastardo, Jorge De La Rosa and Kris Medlen if they earn roster spots. Not including the $5.85 million potentially owed to the minor-leaguers, Arizona ranks 16th in payroll, according to Spotrac.com. On top of pay increases to returning players, the pursuit of veterans like catcher Alex Avila ($4 million), reliever Yoshi Hirano ($3 million) and likely backup outfielder Dyson ($3.75 million) are costs that weren’t there heading into 2017.

[MLB] Murphy, Feliz dark-horse candidates for D-backs – It would not be surprising to see at least one non-roster reliever make this year’s team. Feliz could end up being one of them. The 29-year-old was a star for the Rangers as a closer when they made the World Series in 2010 and ‘11, before Tommy John surgery sidetracked his career. Feliz impressed in 2016, when he compiled a 3.52 ERA in 62 games for the Pirates, and he still has electric stuff. Because he was signed late in the offseason, Feliz missed the first few days of camp, but he impressed the D-backs’ staff by the physical condition he reported in.

[Arizona Sports] Steven Souza Jr. arrives in Arizona excited to be a D-back – “He’s going to fit right in to this clubhouse. We’re excited about the type of bat, about the type of defender and about the type of person that just walked into our clubhouse this morning,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “I watched a couple of rounds of his BP. It looked like the swing was where he wanted it. I didn’t have a chance to follow-up with him, but we’re thrilled that he’s here and he’s happy to be here and it was a good introduction this morning.”

[Inside the ‘Zona] D-backs Miss Martinez, Add Souza and Stay Flexible – It’s hard not to wonder what could have been. I won’t try to argue that Steven Souza is J.D. Martinez. Both are upgrades over the alternative of doing nothing to shore up the corner outfield situation. The D-backs knew they couldn’t give Yasmany Tomas regular starts and went in an different direction, despite the sunk costs. They got better and presumably kept some flexibility. The time to win is now, but the future still exists. Mike Hazen and company are doing their best to maximize the former without totally sacrificing the latter. That’s a worthwhile strategy, so now we’re left to see how it works out. Luckily, we won’t have to wait long.

[Arizona Sports] Shortstop: One of few position battles left for Arizona DiamondbacksNick Ahmed, Ketel Marte and Chris Owings are all vying for the job. All manned the position in 2017. “We have some very capable guys that are going to go out there and compete,” Lovullo said. “Nobody is the lead-dog right now. It’s all going to be a blank canvas in my eyes and they’re going to go out and hopefully somebody will emerge from that group and be the starting shortstop.” A pair of right-hand injuries limited Ahmed to 53 games last season, including 41 starts at shortstop. “It was a very, very trying year for Nick,” Lovullo said.

[AZ Central] Yasmany Tomas contract keeps hurting – So how could this play out? There’s obviously no way to trade him, not unless the Diamondbacks want to take back someone else’s bad contract. But a lot could happen between now and Opening Day. It’s possible Tomas could put together a huge spring training performance and compel the Diamondbacks to keep him on the roster, hoping he could provide right-handed power off the bench, something they could use. Or an injury or two could open the door. But if the Diamondbacks get to the end of camp, decide they don’t want Tomas on the roster and need a 40-man spot, he might wind up being designated for assignment.

[Realtor] Big Unit, Big Deal? Randy Johnson Slices $3M Off Price of Arizona Mansion – The Hall of Fame pitcher and Arizona Diamondbacks legend owns a 25,000-square-foot mansion in Paradise Valley that’s been languishing on the market since September 2014. Now the “The Big Unit” is ready to cut a big deal—he knocked an additional $3 million off the list price this week. The seven-bedroom, 12-bathroom home hit the market for $25 million nearly four years ago. Then early last year, the fearsome hurler knocked $5 million off the price. And now, it can be yours for the relatively low price of $16.5 million.

And, elsewhere…

[MLB] George Clooney once tried out for the Reds but just could not hit a curveball – Clooney once tried out for the Reds in 1977. Yes, the Big Red Machine Reds. The 16-year-old was a top high school ballplayer and was invited to the team’s facilities for a tryout. He could hit fastballs fine, but when the pitcher started throwing curves, things did not go so well …

[MLB Daily Dish] Rays trade Corey Dickerson to Pirates – The Rays traded outfielder Corey Dickerson to the Pirates for reliever Daniel Hudson, minor-league infielder Tristan Gray and cash (reportedly $1 million), according to a club announcement. Tampa Bay designated Dickerson for assignment on Saturday in the first of a series of moves that saw the club acquire C.J. Cron, sign Carlos Gomez and trade both Jake Odorizzi and Steven Souza. While the DFA was surprising at the time, the consensus was that the club was working on trades and would be able to get a reasonable return.

[Detroit News] ‘Unbelievable:’ Female ump Pawol gets first taste of MLB with Tigers game – Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire did something after the game Thursday that he would very rarely do in the regular season. He made a point of personally complimenting the home-plate umpire. “Helluva job, very nice,” he said to Jen Pawol, one of two women umpiring in professional baseball. Pawol is 41 and last season worked in the New York-Penn Short-Class A League. This was the first time she worked a game involving a major league team. “Unbelievable,” she said. “Just really excited now that I got through it. It took like three-years’ worth of professional work to get here. I went out there pretty confident and I feel pretty good how the day went.”

Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Steven Souza feels for Tampa fans, but won't pile on Rays

Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Steven Souza feels for Tampa fans, but won't pile on Rays

The baseball world has had plenty to say about the Tampa Rays’ notorious self-dismantling project, but one of their most recent former standouts wasn’t about to pile on and trash the franchise for its systematic downsizing.

Diamondbacks outfielder Steven Souza said he’s glad that’s above his pay scale.

“Yeah, the beautiful part about my contract is that it says I just play outfield,” Souza said Thursday upon being formally introduced following his trade from Tampa. “I’m really thankful about that part – that I don’t have to be a GM – because I would hate to be in Erik’s spot (Erik Neander) and the pressure that he has, to do what he does under the circumstances he has.

“I feel for everyone – the players and the team. I think it’s just important, honestly in all of baseball, to have a competitive team. No matter what organization it is, it’s just important. It’s good for the fans, it’s good for baseball if we just continue to have good competitive teams on the field. Nobody wants to go to a game where it’s a blowout because there’s a Triple-A team versus a team that should actually be on the field.”

RELATED: Diamondbacks’ trade for Steven Souza is latest win-now move

In recent weeks, the Rays have dealt their face of the franchise, Evan Longoria, to the Giants, traded away both Jake Odorizzi and Souza, and designated outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment. On Thursday, he was traded to the Pirates.

Souza feels sorry for the Tampa fans and hopes they don’t jump ship.

“I think they’re a little confused right now for sure, to say the least,” he said. “They’ve just got to trust baseball. I know this is a tough time down there by losing Longo and Corey and now me. … Unfortunately, that’s the way the Rays want to go. Hopefully, (the fans) can stay there and hopefully support what they’re trying to do down there.”

Take a seat

Lovullo said he plans to stick with his methodology of giving his core players regular days off here and there to keep them fresh and at their strongest when the season matters the most. That will be especially true again with center fielder A.J. Pollock, who has battled some leg injuries the past couple of seasons.

“We feel like it’s very important to give players rest at times,” Lovullo said. “Yes, it’s frustrating to the player, it’s frustrating to all of us to know they can go out there and perform and we might be missing them for that particular game. But we believe that the 13-game winning streak at the end of our season, when it was the most important time of the season, was no fluke.

“Our players were rested, they were strong, and you could see how that impacted the season for us. It was a very critical time of the year when our guys were 100 percent and playing very, very fundamental and physical baseball.”

Pollock, limited by injuries in three of the past four seasons, said he is “totally on board” with whatever plan Lovullo has in store for him.

“I’m not a guy that’s going to say, ‘Hey, this is what you want to do, but this is what I want to do. I’m not budging,’” Pollock said. “We’ll work together and we’ll come up with the best scenario for  everyone on the team.”

MORE: Diamondbacks deal with Tomas a mistake that keeps hurting

Murphy brings depth

The Diamondbacks have six catchers in camp this spring, and although it will be hard for more than two of them to get any real playing time once the season begins, depth also provides a much-needed service.

On that end of the things, Arizona is thankful it was able to acquire John Ryan Murphy last summer in a trade with the Twins. Lovullo describes him as “a presence behind the plate that understands the role and the importance of his position every single night.

“He came in last year as a highly regarded catcher as far as receiving the ball, calling a game, and it’s been all of that. We’ve had just a short look at him because of what we were doing late in the year when we picked him up, but every time he got a start he was very impressive.”

Murphy hit a combined .238 with six home runs and 34 RBIs between Triple-A Rochester and Reno last season, but he’s been working tirelessly on improving his offensive production. He has a more aggressive swing this year, which could make him even more of an asset.

“From what I’ve seen so far in camp,” Lovullo said, “he’s done a lot of work with his swing and he’s going to get consistent at-bats here in spring training, so we’re going to get a good look at that as well.”

MORE: Diamondbacks defeat ASU in exhibition tune-up

Short hop

Right-hander Matt Koch, who missed much of last season because of a hamstring injury and then a shoulder impingement, will start Friday’s Cactus League opener for the Diamondbacks against the Rockies at Salt River Fields.

“Last year was a lean year for him because of some of the injuries that he walked through early, so we felt like it would be special for him to start tomorrow and get a new start to the 2018 season,” Lovullo said.

Among position players, Lovullo said only a handful of veterans would see action in Friday’s game. They will include Chris Owings, Ketel Marte and Chris Herrmann.

MORE: Diamondbacks trade history: Notable deals

Reach McManaman at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Wednesday night between 7-9 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.

 

Shortstop: One of few position battles left for Arizona Diamondbacks

Shortstop: One of few position battles left for Arizona Diamondbacks

(AP photos)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Three players. One position.

For manager Torey Lovullo it’s a good problem to have. It creates competition, which is exactly what he and the Arizona Diamondbacks have at the shortstop position here in spring training.

Nick Ahmed, Ketel Marte and Chris Owings are all vying for the job. All manned the position in 2017.

“We have some very capable guys that are going to go out there and compete,” Lovullo said. “Nobody is the lead-dog right now. It’s all going to be a blank canvas in my eyes and they’re going to go out and hopefully somebody will emerge from that group and be the starting shortstop.”

A pair of right-hand injuries limited Ahmed to 53 games last season, including 41 starts at shortstop.

“It was a very, very trying year for Nick,” Lovullo said.

Always good with the glove — Baseball America rated Ahmed as the National League’s second-best defensive shortstop behind the Giants’ Brandon Crawford — Ahmed was having a solid year with the bat, hitting a career-high .251 before getting hurt.

He didn’t play after June 27 meaning he missed out on the D-backs’ playoff run, their first in six years.

“It’s something I definitely want to be a part of, but hopefully I’ll play for plenty more years and get there a bunch more times,” he said.

For now, Ahmed, 27, is focused solely on this season, specifically this spring, trying to convince the D-backs it should be him who breaks camp as the starting shortstop.

“You can’t control what anybody else is doing or what the coaches or media think. You just have to control your own game and your own emotions and your own growth and do what you can to get a little bit better every day,” he said. “I trust that that is going to take care of itself when the time is right.”

Owings, too, is coming off an injury-shortened season.

Hit by a pitch in late July, Owings suffered a fractured right middle finger. The injury required surgery and then a follow-up procedure was performed in the offseason.

Owings, 26, has since been cleared for all baseball activity; though the D-backs are easing him back in. He’ll be the designated hitter in Friday’s Cactus League opener.

It was Owings who started Opening Day last season. He made 51 total starts at shortstop.

This season, at least right now, the D-backs view Owings as a jack-of-all-trades.

“He’s going to walk all over the diamond and impact the game from a different angle at different times throughout the course of the season. So, it’s going to be a little bit of third, a little bit of short, a little bit of second, a little bit of corner outfield,” Lovullo said.

Ultimately, Owings may land at second base, where the D-backs now have an opening after this week’s trade of Brandon Drury to the New York Yankees.

“We talked the other day,” Owings said, referring to Lovullo. “I envision the same kind of role as last year; kind of bouncing around, bringing all my gloves to the dugout.”

With the injuries to Ahmed and Owings, it was Marte, who in the words of Lovullo, saved the D-backs a year ago.

After his recall from Triple-A Reno, Marte hit .260 with 11 doubles, two triples, five home runs and 18 RBI in 73 games, 57 of which he started at shortstop. Plus another four starts in the postseason, where he batted .412 (7-for-17) with two triples, one home run and two RBI.

“We’re hoping that it picks up right where it left off. He’s one of those players that played such meaningful innings last year that he grows and learns and projects a little bit better,” Lovullo said. “We want Ketel to get on edge, perform with his pants on fire like he did last year because he’s a very special player.”

Marte, 24, was acquired as part of the trade with the Seattle Mariners that landed the D-backs starting pitcher Taijuan Walker for second baseman Jean Segura last offseason.

Like Owings, Marte does have experience playing second base — albeit limited; three career starts, all in 2015 — which gives the D-backs some roster flexibility. If given the choice, however, Marte prefers fielding the left side of the diamond.

“I can play shortstop better. But, I’m Dominican, Latin, I can play anywhere,” he said, smiling. “If I had to catch, I can catch, too. If I had to pitch, I can pitch, too. Anywhere. I just want to be on the team because I know I can help my team to get this championship.”

Between the three, Ahmed has shown to be the better glove, Owings the better bat and Marte would appear to be a good mix of the two at this stage of his young career.

It’s up to Lovullo, and the D-backs front office, to decide which one of the three, or maybe even a combination, works best in 2018.

“Defensively, we’re looking for leadership. Defensively, we’re looking for our shortstop to cover ground and make plays — without a fear,” he said.

“Offensively, we’re going to pay attention to how the ball is coming off the bat, looking at swing planes, balanced approaches, engaged at-bats, lengthy at-bats, smart at-bats. Those guys have to understand what each at-bat is asking them to do and we’re going to evaluate a little bit based on what they’re doing to execute knowing what that at-bat is asking for.”