Thursday, June 9, 2011

All-Star event to feature 'Glee' choreographer

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/09/11

PHOENIX -- The first MLB All-Star Saturday Night Charity Dance Party will feature "Glee" choreographer Zach Woodlee.

Woodlee will bring his talents to the Phoenix Convention Center on July 9 to teach and judge a special All-Star dance during the event.

Attendees will have the chance to win prizes, and net proceeds from the event will be divided equally between the Prostate Cancer Foundation, Stand Up To Cancer and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

Participants will dance to an eclectic mix of music throughout the event, which will run from 6 p.m. to midnight.

Participants will have the chance to win prizes that include a VIP Glee package to visit the set of Glee during the 2012 season.

Additional VIP guests will be on hand, including MLB legends, guest DJs and other celebrities to be announced closer to the event.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

D-backs fulfill draft strategy, nab power arms

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/08/11

PHOENIX -- D-backs scouting director Ray Montgomery knows his numbers.

"Forty-six percent of the rosters are pitchers," he said. "It takes a lot of pitchers to win. Our draft focus was that."

And the organization set that tone early, beginning with the D-backs first two picks of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, when it selected right-handed pitchers Trevor Bauer (third overall) and Archie Bradley (seventh overall).

"You come out there with those two arms at the top and with what we added behind those guys," Montgomery said on a conference call on Wednesday. "We certainly feel very good about what we accomplished the last three days."

Bauer, whom the D-backs had been scouting since the age of 12, is a junior at UCLA and went 13-2 with a 1.25 ERA this season. He completed 10 games, striking out 203 in 136 2/3 innings and walked only 36.

Bradley, an 18-year-old from Broken Arrow High School in Oklahoma, went 12-1 with a 0.29 ERA while leading his team to the state championship in his senior season. The hard-throwing Bradley also starred at quarterback and has committed to the University of Oklahoma to play football.

"We tried to get power arms," Montgomery said. "I don't think you can ever have enough of that."

Rounding out the team's Day 1 selections was Kent State left-hander Andrew Chafin, taken 43rd overall in the compensation round.

Chafin, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior, underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2009 and missed all of the 2010 season, but returned as the team's Friday starter and went 8-1 with a 2.02 ERA in 12 starts this season. He recorded two shutouts, struck out 105 batters in 89 innings and walked 23.

The team picked up where it left off on Day 2 of the draft by selecting Coastal Carolina starting pitcher Anthony Meo, who many project as a middle reliever at the next level but who, Montgomery said, will pitch to his comfort zone in the professional ranks.

"At this point, I think we send him out there as a starter," Montgomery said. "That's what he's done and that's what he's comfortable doing."

Meo recently threw a no-hitter in a Big South Tournament game and has a repertoire of an above-average fastball, a slider, a cutter and a changeup that's still a work in progress.

"He's got the change, but at this point it's just the pitch that's behind the other two," Montgomery said.

The four early selections of pitchers outlined the D-backs' draft strategy, as they took 28 pitchers in total, eight of those being left-handers.

Of the team's 52 picks, 38 were from the college ranks and 14 were fresh out of high school.

Some, like third-round selection Justin Bianco, are still playing in the high school state playoffs.

Bianco, from Peters Township High School in western Pennsylvania, is a 6-foot center fielder with power and speed potential. He's hitting close to .600 on the season and has a left-handed bat that Montgomery likes.

"He's a good runner and has a good body," Montgomery said, noting that coming from the Northeast, he might be a little behind repetition-wise.

The selection of Bianco signaled another trend within the organization's drafting technique this year: choosing players up the middle of the diamond. In all, the D-backs took 13 players designated to fill those positions (catcher, middle infield, center field) and spent four picks on catchers.

In the fifth round, they took Michael Perez out of San Juan, Puerto Rico and in the 15th round, Bauer's collegiate backstop Steve Rodriguez out of UCLA.

"We like his intangibles," Montgomery said of Rodriguez, who recorded a .996 fielding percentage while throwing out 59 percent of runners attempting to steal last season.

The team selected Kansas State right-hander Evan Marshall in the fourth round and TCU right-hander Kyle Winkler in the 10th, both picks representing upside on the mound.

Marshall served both starting and relieving roles at Kansas State and Winkler, who was last seen walking off the mound with an injury in the NCAA Regionals, was previously drafted by Montgomery during his time with the Brewers.

"We have a lot of history with Kyle," he said. "He has a nice package of stuff."

While a number of pitchers that the D-backs drafted might be thrust into new roles upon their arrivals in the Minor Leagues, Montgomery said he wouldn't rule out anything at the time.

"We're not going to restrict anybody," he said.

Montgomery said that the team has agreed to terms with a few picks, somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 players.

"Some will be slower than others," he said. "But we're looking forward to getting them signed and on their paths to the big leagues."

D-backs select Matt Williams' son in 49th round

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/08/11

PHOENIX -- The D-backs selected third base coach Matt Williams' son, Jacob, in the 49th round of the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft on Wednesday.

Williams, a 6-foot-1 switch-hitting first baseman from South Mountain Community College, hit .264 with no home runs and 22 RBIs on the season.

He played in 54 games, 49 of which he started, and had an on-base percentage of .399.

He graduated from Scottsdale, Ariz. Brophy Prep in 2009.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Anthony Meo highlights Diamondbacks' Day 2 arms haul

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/07/11

PHOENIX -- The D-backs made a commitment to pitching on Monday by selecting right-handers Trevor Bauer and Archie Bradley with the third and seventh picks, respectively, in the first round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.

The organization picked up where they left off on Tuesday, and selected 17 pitchers -- 11 of them right-handers -- on Day 2 of the Draft.

"After yesterday, we felt very strong coming into today -- and I think we just built on that," D-backs scouting director Ray Montgomery said on a conference call. "We added a little bit more on the mound, and I don't think you ever can get enough of that."

In the second round, the team selected right-hander Anthony Meo, a junior from Coastal Carolina. Many believe Meo, who features a four-pitch repertoire with a low- to mid-90's fastball, is best suited for the bullpen. But Montgomery said the team would put him wherever he feels most comfortable.

"At this point, I think we send him out as a starter," Montgomery said. "That's what he's done, that's what he's comfortable doing. His workload has been good, and he's handled it well. We'll handle him in that role until he tells us differently."

The team followed up its pick of Meo with high school outfielder Justin Bianco from Peters Township (Penn.) High School.

Bianco, Montgomery said, has an above-average arm, with above-average power.

"He has a good body, and he's a good runner," he said. "He's young, and he's a great kid."

Bianco is hitting close to .600 on the season, as his team battles through the Pennsylvania high school playoffs.

On the day, the D-backs selected 22 players from the college ranks and seven from high school.

They added two catchers -- including the college backstop for No. 3 pick Bauer, Steve Rodriguez -- and made a commitment to the middle of the field, taking three shortstops, two center fielders and a second baseman.

"We focused on middle-of-the-field, athletic guys," Montgomery said. "It's gone beyond what I could have expected."

D-backs selections for Rounds 6-30:

• Round 6: RHP, Matt Price: A finalist for the NCBWA's Stopper of the Year award, the South Carolina sophomore was an All-SEC selection and recorded 17 saves with a 2.25 ERA. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Price struck out 63 batters in 48 innings, holding opponents to a .202 batting average.

• Round 7: CF, Ben Roberts: Roberts is a multi-sport star from Missoula Sentinel High School in Montana, and is ranked among the best prospects in this year's graduating class. In 21 games this season, Roberts hit .323 with three home runs and 21 RBIs. He is committed to Washington State.

• Round 8: RHP, Jesse Darrah: Darrah, a junior from Fresno Pacific University, broke the school record for strikeouts with 101 in 88 2/3 innings pitched last season. He was one of the most dominant pitchers at the NAIA level, and struck out three batters in three exhibition innings against the Triple-A Fresno Grizzlies.

• Round 9: SS, John Leonard: The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Leonard, from Connellsville Area High School in Pennyslvania, is committed to North Carolina State.

• Round 10: RHP, Kyle Winkler: Winkler was 8-2 with a 1.39 ERA in 13 starts this season for TCU. He struck out 99 batters in 90 2/3 innings, completed two games and held hitters to a .200 batting average. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior was a member of the 2010 Collegiate National Team.

• Round 11: LHP, William Locante: A lefty from Cumberland University, the 6-foot, 190-pound junior went 8-2 with a 2.11 ERA in 13 starts, posting two shutouts and striking out 118 in 81 innings. Prior to Cumberland, Locante played two seasons at Tennessee. Opponents hit .179 against him in 2011.

• Round 12: SS, Joshua Parr: The junior shortstop from Illinois batted .302 with two home runs and 36 RBIs for the Illini in 2011. He stole 17 bases in 19 attempts, was an All-Big Ten second-team selection and was named to the all-tournament team at the NCAA Fullerton Regional.

• Round 13: LHP, John Pedrotty: The 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior left-hander went 7-2 with a 4.62 ERA for Holy Cross. He completed two games, struck out 56 batters in 60 1/3 innings and walked 26.

• Round 14: RHP, Cody Geyer: Geyer, a second baseman/pitcher from Walters State Community College in North Carolina, holds the North Carolina high school record for career home runs. He was named first-team All-State and Rawlings Top 200 All-American in 2010.

• Round 15: C, Steven Rodriguez: The junior catcher from UCLA hit .196 with no home runs and 17 RBIs during his 2011 campaign. The 6-foot-1 switch-hitter had a .996 fielding percentage, and threw out 59 percent of attempted basestealers.

• Round 16: LHP, Michael Blake: The junior from Hawaii saw action at both pitcher and first base and played 47 games, batting .241 with 16 runs and 23 RBIs. On the mound, he pitched 8 1/3 innings in 10 appearances with a 3.24 ERA.

• Round 17: LHP, Adam Choplick: Choplick, a high school pitcher from Denton, Texas, signed a letter of intent to Oklahoma, and was a two-sport star at Billy Ryan High School. He threw a perfect game in late April, striking out 16 batters. He played first base for the majority of his senior season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

• Round 18: LHP, Taylor Siemens: Siemens, a 6-foot-5 senior from California Baptist University, went 9-2 with two complete games in the spring. He struck out 95 in 105 1/3 innings.

• Round 19: 2B, Danny Pulfer: The Oregon second baseman hit a team-leading .351 and stole nine bases for the Ducks. The 5-foot-9 junior hit two home runs, drove in 20 runs, had an on-base percentage of .426 and was named Pac-10 All-Conference.

• Round 20: SS, Tommy Williams: The 6-foot-2 high school shortstop hails from Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) High School.

• Round 21: 1B, John Griffin: The All-Conference USA First Team selection at Central Florida led the conference in home runs (19), slugging percentage and total bases (166). The senior hit .343 in 2011.

• Round 22: SS, Garrett Weber: The Fresno State senior hit .274 with five home runs and 33 RBIs. He walked 19 times, struck out 32 times and scored 30 runs.

• Round 23: 3B, Ryan Court: The Illinois State senior hit .323 with six home runs and 35 RBIs in 2011. He stole seven bases and was one of 30 finalists for the Lowe's Senior Class Award.

• Round 24: RHP, Matt Ogden: Committed to Michigan, the 6-foot-3 right-hander hails from Smoky Hill High School in Colorado.

• Round 25: OF, George Williams: Williams is a 6-foot, 182-pound outfielder from North Carolina State.

• Round 26: RHP, Austin Platt: Platt, a right-handed pitcher from Braden River (Fla.) High School, is 6-foot-3, 190 pounds.

• Round 27: RHP, Wyatt Strahan: The 6-foot-5, 200-pound pitcher was 6-4 with a 1.48 ERA at Villa Park High School in California. He is committed to Southern California.

• Round 28: RHP, Truman Sample: The Rogers State junior was drafted by the Rangers after last season, and went 2-0 with a 4.56 ERA and four saves in 23 2/3 innings.

• Round 29: 3B, Carter Bell: The junior from Oregon State hit .299 with one home run and 22 RBIs in 2011. He played for Team Canada last summer in the World Baseball Championships. He was drafted in 2008 by the Giants, but did not sign.

• Round 30: RHP, Dexter Price: The Auburn transfer was 6-3 with a 2.39 ERA in 79 innings at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

D-backs show plenty of fight, but fall in 11

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/05/11

PHOENIX -- Despite two shutouts and a ninth-inning meltdown, the Nationals came into hot Arizona, faced a red-hot D-backs team, and escaped with a series split.

Michael Morse's grand slam to center field punctuated a five-run 11th inning after the Nationals blew a three-run ninth-inning lead, as the visitors ended the D-backs' seven-game homestand with a 9-4 victory in front of 23,129 at Chase Field.

"There's a lot of opportunities that were missed," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "It was a very intense baseball game today, it was entertaining, it was well-played, but somebody had to lose, and unfortunately, it was us."

Morse's grand slam, which came off left-handed reliever Joe Paterson and landed just above the yellow line in center, followed a bases-loaded walk to Rick Ankiel that drove in what proved to be the game's winning run in an exciting, ejection-filled contest.

"The team battled back and I didn't get the job done," Paterson said. "I just had to throw strikes versus Ankiel, and I didn't do that."

Trailing by three runs in the ninth, Arizona closed the gap with tough at-bat after tough at-bat against Nationals closer Drew Storen, who allowed back-to-back singles to Stephen Drew and Chris Young, then followed with back-to-back walks to Miguel Montero and Juan Miranda, forcing in a run.

Todd Coffey entered and allowed a sacrifice fly to Melvin Mora before being relieved by Sean Burnett, who entered and allowed a pinch-hit RBI groundout to Xavier Nady -- who beat out a game-ending double-play by half a step -- to tie the game.

"They had great at-bats," Gibson said. "The guys played hard, they didn't give in and it was a good ballgame. We just didn't come out on top when it was all said and done."

Gibson watched the final three innings from his office in the clubhouse after being the fourth ejection of first-base umpire Gary Darling's crew in the eighth inning, three innings after the trading of hit-by-pitches throughout the series culminated in a warning from home-plate umpire Rob Drake.

Gibson was ejected along with relief pitcher Esmerling Vazquez, who hit and drew the ire of Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa.

"Batters get hit in games," Gibson said. "It was a good baseball game, that's the way I look at it. There was no intent there -- we were playing baseball. I had no problem. The umpires did what they thought was right and we play by the rules."

One batter later, after Aaron Heilman was brought in from the bullpen, Wilson Ramos hit a three-run home run to left field for a 4-1 Nationals lead, took a leisurely stroll around the bases and drew the ire of D-backs third-base coach Matt Williams.

"It was no big deal," Gibson said. "None of it is offensive to me."

A warning was issued to D-backs starting pitcher Ian Kennedy in the fifth inning after he hit Jayson Werth on the left shoulder, the third hit-by-pitch for Werth of the four-game series.

"In Werth's case, you have to crowd him," Gibson said. "We're not throwing at him, we're trying to throw him tight. Espinosa and Morse the same way, these guys are big and they like to get their arms out over the plate, so you have to pitch them in."

Nationals starter Jason Marquis and manager Jim Riggleman were ejected in the sixth after Marquis hit Justin Upton, his fourth hit-by-pitch of the series.

"I don't think there was necessarily intent, everybody's trying to win a ballgame," Upton said. "But at some point, the pitcher has to hit his spot. If you're trying to come in and show me in, then hit the mitt. Getting hit [four] times in three days is pretty ridiculous."

Riggleman agreed that there was no intent on Washington's part.

"I can promise you we did not one time have any intent to hit Upton," he said. "I feel terrible that he got hit four times. We didn't want to hit him. It's freakish that the same guy kept getting hit."

After the ejection, Tyler Clippard was summoned from the bullpen with a one-run lead, one out and runners on first and second, and he struck out Stephen Drew and Chris Young to escape any damage.

Clippard pitched 2 1/3 superb innings of relief, striking out six and allowing one run on one hit -- a Kelly Johnson solo home run in the eighth -- before being relieved by Storen.

Until Johnson's home run, his 11th of the season, the D-backs were limited to three hits in the game. They finished with six.

Pitching under the weather, Kennedy went seven innings, allowed one run on five hits, struck out three and walked three.

"Personally, I felt pretty bad," he said about battling the flu for a week. "I just tried to get as many innings as I could out of myself."

Werth opened the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the second inning, scoring Roger Bernadina, who had three hits on the game.

The D-backs finished their homestand with a 4-3 record and sit a half-game behind the Giants in the National League West.

"We played tough," Upton said. "We were battling, grinding, and we never feel like the game's over. We were able to put together a rally, we fought, they just came out on top."

Kirk Gibson, Esmerling Vazquez ejected after hit-by-pitch

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/05/11

PHOENIX -- D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said it was just baseball. Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said it was freakish.

But whatever it was, both managers and two pitchers were ejected in Sunday's 9-4 win for the Nationals at Chase Field, after a series-long swap of hit-by-pitches from the two teams.

Home-plate umpire Rob Drake issued a warning to both benches in the fifth inning after D-backs starter Ian Kennedy plunked Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth on the left shoulder for his third hit-by-pitch of the series.

Two batters later, Kennedy nicked the jersey of Michael Morse but was allowed to stay in the game.

"Once we give warnings, if we deem it's intentional, then there are ejections," crew chief Gary Darling said. "The rest of it will be in our report to the league."

Kennedy said there was no intent in his hit batters, that he threw two-seam fastballs that just got away and that he agreed with Drake's decision not to throw him out.

"I think he was paying attention," Kennedy said. "He was a very good umpire, we were pounding [Morse] in during this series, and it was great on his part to see that, because, obviously, it just nicked his jersey."

But an inning later, Marquis hit Upton -- the right fielder's fourth hit-by-pitch of the series -- and was ejected, along with Riggleman, per MLB rules.

"We aren't throwing at anybody," Riggleman said. "We are trying to win the game. We don't want [Marquis] coming out of that game. He doesn't want to come out of that game. It's freakish that the same guy kept getting hit, and I'm disappointed that Jason didn't get to pitch, but somehow or another, we came out with a win."

Two innings later, D-backs reliever Esmerling Vazquez hit Danny Espinosa and both he and Gibson were shown the door.

"Batters get hit in games," Gibson said. "It was a good baseball game, that's the way I look at it. There was no intent there -- we were playing baseball. I had no problem. The umpires did what they thought was right and we play by the rules."

In the 11th, Espinosa was once again hit by a pitch, but D-backs left-handed reliever Joe Paterson wasn't ejected.

When asked after the game if the crew deemed only the sixth and eighth-inning hit-by-pitches from Marquis and Vazquez intentional, Darling said, "That's right."

Saunders spending time on highlight reels

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/05/11

PHOENIX -- D-backs starter Joe Saunders found himself on ESPN's SportsCenter two nights in a row for two different reasons.

On Friday, he was wearing bubblegum on the top of his hat, courtesy of closer J.J. Putz.

"I saw that," Saunders said. "My friendly pitching coach came in and told me. I was giving him a fist and he said, 'Hey, how's it going. You have bubblegum on your hat.'"

On Saturday, he was diving and making a backhanded toss to first base that earned him a spot on SportsCenter's top plays.

The play was a replica of one earlier in the year that he couldn't make in Chicago.

"I can make that play," he said. "I was mad for not making that play because I've made it a ton of times, so it was a good play."

Saunders said that when he was with the Angels, Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki would often test him by bunting.

"I've had some practice with it and finally proved the fact that I could make that play."

He nabbed Ian Desmond on the third-inning play and tabbed Putz as the team's main culprit in the clubhouse -- and dugout -- pranks.

"J.J. usually tries to get a different guy each time," Saunders said. "Whoever's dumb enough like me not to pay attention."

Duke excited for homecoming in Pittsburgh

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/05/11

PHOENIX -- Welcome back Zach.

Wednesday will serve as a homecoming of sorts for D-backs starter Zach Duke, who is slated to start against the Pirates at PNC Park.

Duke pitched six seasons in Pittsburgh after being selected by the Pirates in the 20th round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft.

"It's good to get back there," he said. "I spent a lot of time there, had some good memories, had some bad memories, but it will be good."

Duke earned an All-Star appearance with the Pirates in 2009, during a campaign in which he went 11-16 with a 4.06 ERA.

He is scheduled to face Paul Maholm. The two were teammates for six seasons.

Duke is 31-31 with a 4.26 ERA in 81 career starts at PNC Park.

"It's a pitchers' ballpark for sure," he said. "Left field gets deep in a hurry. It plays very fair, and it's a good place to play."

Saunders credits healthy leg for success

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/05/11

PHOENIX -- D-backs starter Joe Saunders said he kept it "On the hush-hush."

But after his third straight win on Saturday, the left-hander opened up about a leg issue that was bothering him for the first month and a half of the season.

"Knock on wood," he said. "It's not a factor anymore."

Saunders said that after his first start of the season, against the Cubs in cold Chicago, he tweaked something in his left leg that made it hard to push off the rubber and keep the ball down in the strike zone.

"It was just sore," he said. "It was tough to me to push off like I was capable of doing, and it was a struggle to go deep in games.

"I'm feeling a lot better now. It's nice to see the velocity come back. It gives you more confidence."

Saunders has pitched at least seven innings in two of his last three starts and has allowed two earned runs or less in three of his last four starts. He is 3-5 with a 4.32 ERA in 12 starts this season

"I think he has more life to his pitches," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's had pretty good movement and has kept the opponents off balance pretty well."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

D-backs cruise behind stellar Saunders outing

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/04/11

PHOENIX -- Pitching beats hitting. Or, as of late, D-backs pitching blanks Nationals hitting.

For the second time in as many games, D-backs pitchers shut out Nationals hitters as Joe Saunders pitched seven superb innings, leading the team to a 2-0 victory over Washington on Saturday in front of 26,199 at Chase Field.

After going winless over the first month and a half of the season, Saunders picked up his third consecutive victory, allowing just two hits while striking out five.

"I had good command," Saunders said. "The defense was awesome behind me, I got some ground balls, which was nice, and Hank [Blanco] was awesome back there."

And for the second time in as many starts, Saunders had to wiggle out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning before hitting cruise control.

"It was a little shaky in the first inning for me," he said. "These bases-loaded [situations] in the first inning are getting kind of ridiculous. I'm getting tired of that, but I felt good today."

After allowing a leadoff single to Jerry Hairston, hitting Jayson Werth with one out and walking Danny Espinosa with two outs, the left-hander worked his way out of the inning by inducing a flyout from Wilson Ramos.

He allowed only two baserunners the rest of the way and credited his changeup command as something that contributed to his success.

"I think I probably threw more than normal," Saunders said. "With a team like that, they are aggressive, and I tried to work that against them the best that I could, and I was fortunate to get some ground balls and just have some fun out there."

Stephen Drew tripled home Kelly Johnson with two outs in the bottom of the first to provide the D-backs with the only run the staff needed as the team posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2009.

The shutout was Arizona's fifth this season and its fourth victory in six games this homestand.

"It's huge to get wins when they're picking us up and we're not getting a lot of offense," Drew said. "But at the same time, we're getting timely hitting, and it's a good feeling to have."

Opposing Saunders, Nationals starter Livan Hernandez turned in seven solid innings, allowing two runs on four hits. He struck out three and walked four.

"He's a veteran guy, he's a gamer and he pitched very well," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said.

The two starting pitchers combined to sit the opposition down in order nine times.

In the seventh, Xavier Nady smacked a double to right field to score Chris Young, who singled to lead off the inning and was running on the pitch.

"That was great execution and a huge, huge run," Gibson said.

Nady, a part-time player who has started in each of the past three games, was hitting .467 in 15 career at-bats against Hernandez entering the game.

"With him, you just try to swing at strikes," Nady said. "Fortunately, I kind of saw a little bit of everything and I was able to put a good swing on the pitch."

After Saunders was lifted in the seventh for pinch-hitter Sean Burroughs, David Hernandez worked his way through a two-on, two-out jam in the eighth by striking out Mike Morse, and J.J. Putz nailed down his 17th save of the season in the ninth.

Each team recorded four hits. Hairston singled and doubled for the Nationals, who were shut out in back-to-back games for the second time this season and the ninth time overall.

Hernandez has been involved in five of those shutouts.

"It's not something I can control," he said. "I go and try to pitch good. That's all."

With the victory, the D-backs improved to 18-4 in their past 22 games and sit a half-game ahead of the Giants in the National League West. Ian Kennedy faces Jason Marquis Sunday afternoon to wrap up the home stand.

"It's a very good accomplishment," Gibson said of the shutouts. "We have a game tomorrow, and we hope Ian's on his game. I've had confidence in these guys all along, from the get-go, even when things didn't look good -- but our rotation has gelled pretty good."

Putz a positive influence on young Paterson

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/04/11

PHOENIX -- J.J. Putz took left-handed reliever Joe Paterson under his wing early in Spring Training.

"He adopted him right away," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "I think it's been huge."

Paterson pitched the ninth inning of Friday night's 4-0 win over the Nationals, striking out one and lowering his ERA to 0.66 on the season.

"Last night was a big inning he threw," Gibson said. "A lot of guys were hanging, and at the same time, it helped me develop him for some future situations. He got some pretty good righties out there."

Paterson is in his first big league season and Gibson said he couldn't measure the impact that Putz has had on the youngster.

"J.J. made him feel comfortable," Gibson said. "You could see it in his eyes early. He was a Rule 5 guy, he knows the deal, and he was trying to impress people.

"J.J. was right there for him and he walked him through it."

Owings getting the job done out of the bullpen

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/04/11

PHOENIX -- In his second stint with the D-backs, Micah Owings is excelling in a relief role.

"I feel good," Owings said. "I just throw the best I can whenever I get the opportunity to get out there in whatever the situation is."

Owings made his season debut in a starting role on May 21 against the Twins, pitching 5 1/3 innings and allowing three runs on seven hits.

He made a second start five days later, earning his first victory of the season by beating the Rockies, but was bumped from the rotation when Zach Duke returned from injury.

In three relief appearances since, Owings has pitched four scoreless innings, allowing only one hit.

"He's pitched great," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's deceiving, and in the bullpen role he's been in, he's gotten better and better."

Owings last pitched on Thursday and struck out three over two innings.

"He just mowed them down," Gibson said.

The 28-year-old said consistency on the mound has been his primary focus.

"I know that's how I can help the team," he said. "Consistency and control. I've never really bought into speeds and radar guns and things like that."

Friday, June 3, 2011

Upton, Heilman dismiss retaliation talk

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/03/11

PHOENIX -- Late in Thursday night's game, D-backs right fielder Justin Upton and Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth were plunked in back-to-back innings.

With the Nationals ahead 4-1, Upton was hit by left-handed reliever Sean Burnett in the left shoulder.

An inning later, Heilman hit Werth with a fastball in the left elbow and on Friday, both D-backs dismissed any sort of retaliation was involved.

"It was a coincidence," Upton said. "With two strikes, he obviously wasn't trying to hit me and I think one just got away from Aaron. There's nothing there."

Heilman, who allowed two runs on two hits in an inning's worth of work, said he had to work the inside half of the plate against Werth.

"He's a tough hitter," Heilman said. "You have to pitch him aggressively and pitch inside."

Werth was not in the lineup on Friday.

The right-handed reliever has been struggling of late and Kirk Gibson said it was a priority to get him back on track.

"I feel good," Heilman said. "Certainly last night I didn't get the results I wanted. It's a long season and I'll just keep grinding it out and battling it out."

Montero working on sweep tags at home

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/03/11

PHOENIX -- Before Friday's game, D-backs bullpen and catching coach Glenn Sherlock was working with catcher Miguel Montero on sweep tags at home plate.

"Obviously there has been a lot going on with tag plays and things at home plate," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "We always try to do something at home and sharpen things up."

Gibson said the team has had conversations about it, but he said not to read much into Montero's pregame practice.

He also explained his thoughts on the recent hot-button topic of catchers blocking home plate in light of Giants catcher Buster Posey being injured just over a week ago.

"I'll just say this: I thought the play was within the rules," Gibson said. "And I'll tell you from the way I looked at it as a player, if you're coming down the line and the catcher's up in front of the plate, you don't know. A lot of guys will bait you to slide, but when it's a close play like that, you have no idea if that ball's going to be caught or if it's going to be mishandled. "[It] is bang-bang. So if you assume it's going to be caught -- lets assume its going to be caught right there -- if he slides, is he going to be safe or is he going to be out? So it's a baseball play and I think that he chose to make sure the ball was dislodged and it's an unfortunate play, but I do feel it was within the rules. Those plays have been going on for many years.

"I don't know this but it'd be interesting -- I would say probably more runners get hurt at home plate in collisions than catchers over time, in my guess. I have no basis; it's a baseball play so right now it's within the rules. If they should change it then we'll adapt to it."

When asked if he instructs his catchers to avoid contact, Gibson said he leaves that up to Spurlock.

"But I played with a guy, Mike Scioscia," Gibson said. "He was pretty much on the plate, and his theory was if you're on the plate, you're deeper and you have a better chance for reading it. And you're also taking it more head on. He would stay there and in the end, if he didn't have to, he would just go down and roll. I watched him get crushed, getting knocked out at home plate and hanging on to the ball.

"But getting back to your original question, I think the play was within the rules."

Gibson scratches Miranda from lineup again

HOENIX -- For the second straight night, D-backs first baseman Juan Miranda was not in the starting lineup.

"He's fine," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said, before saying that he just decided to go with Xavier Nady on Friday night.

Miranda was a late scratch from Thursday's lineup because he wasn't feeling well, but he did make a pinch-hit performance in the seventh inning, grounding out to first base.

Gibson said following the loss that Miranda's scratch was related to a collision with pitcher Daniel Hudson the night before.

"He didn't feel tip top so we made a change," Gibson said. "It was something with his neck."

Miranda said on Friday that he hit his neck on the field during the collision, but that he's feeling better.

"I'm ready," he said, adding that he expected to be back in the lineup on Saturday.

Diamondbacks, METRO unveil All-Star trains

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/03/11

PHOENIX -- Luis Gonzalez wanted to take the train for a ride.

"I don't think they'd let me," he said. "But it has a lot of power on it."

On Friday, Gonzalez was in the driver's seat of the first All-Star Game-themed METRO train at the METRO Operations and Maintenance Center on a day that marks a 40-day countdown to the Midsummer Classic in Phoenix.

The train is the first of six wrapped with images of MLB All-Stars that will serve as one of the most utilized vehicles of transportation during the All-Star festivities in July.

"METRO light rail is a big part of the All-Star Game," D-backs president and CEO Derrick Hall said.

"It's going to be an important way to transport people very easily to and from the game and its surrounding events, and we've worked well with them to make sure we could get some of these wrapped up."

A special guest crew of D-backs outfielder Justin Upton, MLB vice president of western operations and special projects Laurel Prieb, METRO director of community relations John Farry and City of Phoenix councilman Michael Johnson accompanied Gonzalez in driving the train out of the garage for the unveiling.

Upton -- the 23-year-old right fielder, MLB All-Star FanFest spokesperson and All-Star Game hopeful -- had his image plastered on each side of the train.

"It's great," he said of the partnership. "In general, having the All-Star Game here is a big event for us. It's huge for our city, and I think we deserve it because it's a great place for people to come and it's a great place to enjoy a weekend of baseball."

Upton and Gonzalez, a five-time All-Star who is serving as MLB's All-Star summer ambassador, are serving as the team's most visible figures.

"This is exciting," Gonzalez said. "The league awarding the game to Phoenix is a great move and it's going to be a great time."

Hall said the partnership between MLB, the D-backs and METRO began about a year ago and was finalized six weeks prior to Friday's ceremony, with design of the exterior and panels on the interior.

"We've been really excited to see how the final product was," he said. "So to come out here and see it in its entirety, we're thrilled."

Johnson spoke in front of a small crowd of people and was also thrilled with the prospects of the area hosting another prolific sporting event.

"We have the All-Star Game, we have an all-star team and we have an all-star city," he said. "We're glad to have the opportunity to showcase what being an All-Star is all about."

METRO has a stop outside of Chase Field and nine spots that fans can park and ride to the ballpark.

"We're definitely committed to them," Hall said. "And they know how important we are to them and vice versa."

The MLB All-Star Game will be held on July 12 at Chase Field.

"Having the decorative stuff around the city is really making it feel closer than it is," Upton said.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Offense silenced in series opener

By Anthony Fenech / | 6/3/2011

PHOENIX -- A comeback wasn't in the cards for the D-backs on Thursday night.

Propelled by three first-inning runs and an impressive pitching performance from Jordan Zimmermann, the Nationals defeated the D-backs, 6-1, in front of 17,810 at Chase Field.

"We knew coming in he had good stuff," D-backs right fielder Justin Upton said. "He showed it tonight."

The D-backs hit a number of balls hard but couldn't muster more than a run against the 25-year-old right-hander, who threw seven innings, allowed six hits and struck out four.

"He pitched and pounded the zone," Upton said. "We were able to barrel him up a few times, but it didn't work out for us."

Zimmermann walked one, singled twice at the plate and earned his third victory of the season.

"Very efficient," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said of Zimmermann's performance. "He's sneaky, has good velocity and he throws the ball good."

Opposing Zimmermann was left-hander Zach Duke, who found himself behind the eight-ball early in his first home start, allowing three runs on four hits in the first inning.

After Duke struck out Roger Bernadina to open the game, Ian Desmond doubled on a high fly ball that evaded D-backs second baseman Kelly Johnson in shallow right field.

"Kelly would tell you he wishes he would have made it," Gibson said. "But it's not an easy play by any means.

"Playing him up the middle, you're running an extremely long way and your eyes are bouncing, you're all out and then you're just basically running to a spot and hoping you can throw your glove up."

Two batters later, Mike Morse singled Desmond home. Danny Espinosa followed with a single before Wilson Ramos doubled two runs home on an 0-2 pitch to deep center field.

"I didn't execute that pitch," Duke said of the pitch to Ramos. "I left a cutter up in the middle, he hit it hard and obviously that's the turning point in the game."

Duke settled down after that inning and pitched five frames, allowing four runs on 10 hits while striking out six. He walked none.

"The first inning got out of control for me," he said. "I was able to keep us in it and give us a chance, but unfortunately we didn't get it done tonight."

Washington pitchers bent, but did not break during a pair of two-on, two-out at-bats that could have provided the spark the D-backs needed to cue their 18th comeback of the season.

In both the fifth and eighth innings, Arizona hitters squared up on the baseball and laced pitches to right field, but both times right at Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth.

"The D-backs hit the ball hard," said Zimmermann, who induced an inning-ending flyout from Ryan Roberts in the fifth, stranding two runners. "And some that were hard hit but right at guys. I got a little lucky there."

The D-backs were finally rewarded by scraping across a run in the seventh on a RBI groundout by Gerardo Parra, scoring Miguel Montero, who doubled to lead off the seventh.

Washington added two runs in the ninth off Aaron Heilman on a triple from Bernadina and a single from Morse, his fourth of the game for a career-high four hits, extending his hit streak to 11 games.

"We didn't play very good," Gibson said. "Not a lot went right for us. Just one of those nights."

Upton had two hits, extending his hitting streak to five games.

"We swung the bats well," he said. "But they played good defense. That's baseball sometimes."

Putz named Major's top reliever for May

PHOENIX -- On the field, D-backs closer J.J Putz has recorded 16 saves with a 1.88 ERA.

Off the field, he has been every bit the stabilizing leader at the back end of the bullpen that the team envisioned when signed him in the offseason.

"He's been more than we probably could have imagined he'd be," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's had a good month and we look forward to many more good months."

On Thursday, Putz was named the Major League Baseball Delivery Man of the Month for May.

"It's a great honor," Putz said. "There were a lot of guys deserving of it, but I wouldn't have been in those opportunities had the starting pitching not pitched the way it has the last month.

"And the guys in front of me in the bullpen, holding those leads until I can get in there and try to do my job," he continued, "And the guys behind me, they all deserve a little piece of this."

In May, Putz converted all 11 of his save opportunities and allowed just one unearned run on five hits in 13 innings, walking four and striking out 10.

He also won the award in June 2007 as a member of the Mariners.

"He earned it obviously," Gibson said. "He was real effective for us and we were able to have the good fortune to pick him up, but beyond what he's done on the field, I've spoke several times to what he's done off the field and what he means to not only the bullpen or pitching staff but the whole team."

Bloomquist's aggressive style pays dividends

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/02/11

PHOENIX -- Willie Bloomquist wasn't thinking.

"Had I thought about it, I probably wouldn't have gone because it's not really a smart play," the D-backs infielder/outfielder said about advancing two bases on an infield groundout in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 6-5 victory over the Marlins.

"It just kind of happened," he said. "I'm willing to push the envelope and make them make a play."

Standing on first with one out, Bloomquist was running on the 2-1 pitch that Ryan Roberts grounded to third base.

"I had a pretty good idea," he said. "I was a few steps around second base when the third baseman was releasing that ball and figured it would take two long, perfect throws to get me."

He figured right, and after Greg Dobbs connected with Gaby Sanchez for the forceout at first, Bloomquist slid into third without a throw.

The 10-year Major League veteran said he wanted to put more pressure on the defense.

"Maybe they throw that ball away and we get an easy win," he said. "Not only that but it brings up the fact that the pitcher can't throw a curveball in the dirt, or maybe he'll be a little less likely to bury one with a guy on third."

After Kelly Johnson walked, Justin Upton's bloop single to right scored Bloomquist for the victory.

"No, not really," Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said when asked if he was surprised Bloomquist went first-to-third. "He's a very good runner."

D-backs working on on-field communication

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/02/11

PHOENIX -- Earlier this week, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson talked about how the team is always trying to improve its communication on the field.

"There are tiny communication things in virtually every aspect of the game," he said. "It's important that we watch around."

On Wednesday, starting pitcher Daniel Hudson and first baseman Juan Miranda weren't looking around, until the last second, on a pop fly that landed just in front of the Marlins dugout.

"There was no communication," Hudson said. "I didn't hear anything. Nobody called it."

Hudson was sprinting from the mound and Miranda from first base when the two collided.

"At the last second I saw him so I tried to slide and make a brace for it," Hudson said.

The collision was not serious and both stayed in the game.

Hudson said he wasn't supposed to call it but noted the situation of the game for his hot pursuit.

"I had given up a few runs and I was trying to get an out any way I could by trying to hustle after it," he said.

Communication, along with hustling and staying humble, are things that Gibson preaches on a daily basis.

"I know I've always done it, and encourage everyone else to do it," he said. "You're trying to solve this puzzle and there are clues. You see it and try to communicate."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Marlins' rally is short-lived in stunner

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/01/11

PHOENIX -- Halfway through the finale of an nine-game West Coast swing, the Marlins were looking forward to a sweet plane ride back.

But four unanswered Arizona runs and one Justin Upton broken-bat, bloop single later and the Marlins were heading home on a sour note after a 6-5 walk-off loss at Chase Field on Wednesday night.

"It was a tough one," Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "Because we played a good game against a very good team."

With the loss, the Marlins still managed a winning road trip, with a record of 5-4 and without ace pitcher Josh Johnson and a healthy Hanley Ramirez at shortstop.

"We started out the road trip real strong," Marlins catcher John Buck said. "We played a couple of flat games, but I don't think we'll really hold our heads down too much after today's game.

"Minus those two games, I think we had a pretty good road trip. But obviously, we'd rather go home winning two series rather than one."

Upton's opposite-field single off reliever Burke Badenhop in the bottom of the ninth scored Willie Bloomquist and took closer J.J. Putz off the hook from blowing his first save of the season.

"I'm disappointed for today's game," Rodriguez said. "I thought we had control of the game, Javy [Vazquez] had control of the game, they made adjustments and you just have to tip your hat to a very good team."

In the top of the ninth, Putz allowed a leadoff home run to Buck to tie the game, 5-5.

The game took a turn with the Marlins ahead, 4-0, in the sixth, on D-backs third baseman Ryan Roberts' two-run home run to left field that cut the lead in half.

"That home run was clutch," Rodriguez said. "It got them back into the game."

The home run was the first bump in the road for Vazquez, who cruised through five innings of two-hit baseball to start the game.

"Everything was working," Vazquez said. "I was being aggressive and mixing it up."

After the Roberts home run, Kelly Johnson tripled and scored on a groundout from Upton. Vazquez escaped the inning but was lifted after a leadoff double by Chris Young in the seventh.

He allowed four runs on six hits, striking out five and walking one.

"I thought I pitched well," Vazquez said. "Just a few mistakes here and there, but I feel good with the way I'm throwing it right now."

Vazquez was relieved by left-handed veteran Randy Choate, who hit a batter and intentionally walked another to load the bases before being relieved by Edward Mujica.

With the bases loaded, Mujica induced a high chopper down the third-base line from pinch-hitter Xavier Nady. Anticipating a double play, Marlins third baseman Greg Dobbs jumped for the ball and came down with his foot on the bag but without the ball, which had skipped off his glove.

"I think he will say yeah, he should have made the play," Rodriguez said. "He was thinking of stepping on the bag and then throwing and that's when he missed the ball."

Young scored from the third to tie the game and the D-backs took the lead an inning later on his second double of the game, scoring Stephen Drew.

Buck tied the game with his sixth home run of the season, a solo shot to right field off Putz in a one-strike count.

With Clay Hensley pitching in the home half of the ninth, Bloomquist singled before the right-hander struck out Sean Burroughs and promptly left with an injury.

After his changeup was swung through, Hensley winced, clutched his right shoulder and dropping to a crouch before being removed from the game.

"We have to wait and see," Rodriguez said. "But the way it looked, it looks like he's going to be out for a while."

With one out, Badenhop entered the game, induced a groundout to third base from Roberts while Bloomquist advanced two bases to third, before walking Johnson and allowing the game-winning bleeder on a broken bat to Upton a batter later.

"When you give a team like that more chances, it's usually not good for the opposite team," Buck said.

Right fielder Mike Stanton fell a double shy of the franchise's first cycle in the loss. He put the Marlins on the board in the second inning with a two-run home run to left-center, tripled home a run an inning later and singled in the sixth.

Stanton struck out swinging against reliever David Hernandez in the eighth.

"I don't worry about that stuff," he said. "I'm just trying to help the team win, I'm not worried about the cycle when we're tied up."

The Marlins sit two games back of the Phillies in the National League East and return to action at home on Friday against the Brewers.

Marlins deciding whether Hanley will hit DL

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/01/11

PHOENIX -- Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said on Wednesday that the time is quickly approaching for the team to decide whether to place shortstop Hanley Ramirez on the disabled list.

"Definitely Friday," he said. "We have to make a decision by Friday because we can't keep going with only one shortstop out there."

Ramirez has been out since Sunday, when he was pulled in the second inning against the Dodgers because of lower back pain. Rodriguez said Ramirez has been suffering from both lower back and sciatic pain in his leg.

"The lower back pain is more consistent and down the leg, it goes on and off," Rodriguez said. "He said he felt better but he's still not able to play, not able to pinch-hit or run, so we have to wait and see."

Rodriguez is hopeful Ramirez will be able to play Friday, "But then again, if you ask him, he won't know. If he feels better, then definitely Friday. That off-day tomorrow is going to help, but we don't have the answer."

The three-time All-Star is hitting .210 with four home runs, 17 RBIs and 11 stolen bases.

Gaby wraps up solid May

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/01/11

PHOENIX -- Gaby Sanchez doesn't want to talk about it.

"I really don't want to talk about anything like that," he joked, in response to a question about mashing at the plate in the month of May. "As a baseball player, I don't think we like to talk about anything like that."

In May, the Marlins' first baseman hit .345 with six home runs and 25 RBIs. He walked 13 times and struck out 16 times.

"I guess most of it is preparation," he said. "The stuff I do before the game even starts and trying to get my swing the way I want it before the game even starts, that's one of the big things."

The 27-year-old hit safely in 20 of 28 games in the month and recorded 12 multihit contests.

He is hitting .322 on the season, good for sixth in the National League, with nine home runs and 35 RBIs.

Sanchez has a career .304 batting average in the month of May, only eclipsed by a .375 career average in the month of June.

Buck's Buck-A-Roos coming to Sun Life

By Anthony Fenech / | 06/01/11

PHOENIX -- Beginning this week, every Friday night home game will be a Buck-A-Roo night at Sun Life Stadium.

As part of the program, Marlins catcher John Buck will host families living with autism and children in the foster care system for a game.

"People need to become more aware, and I want to use whatever platform I have as a baseball player to create awareness," Buck said.

He said the idea came from his wife, Brooke, who always hears kids say they wished they could go inside and watch a game while she works coat and food drives at stadiums.

"She was like 'What? You've never been to a game but you've been to these coat and food drives?'" he said. "So that's how it kind of started."

Brooke Buck decided to start a program in Kansas City and also worked charitable functions during Buck's two seasons in Toronto.

Each Friday, 30 Buck-A-Roos will receive a bright yellow t-shirt, a voucher redeemable for a hot dog, soda and bag of chips as well as Founders Clubs seats located behind home plate.

"We have a soft spot in our hearts for children with autism and developmental delays," Buck, who has a family member affected by autism, said. "There are thousands of kids in South Florida that don't have a family to call their own."