Monday, July 25, 2011

D-backs agree to contract with first pick Bauer

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/25/11

PHOENIX -- Trevor Bauer loves to play baseball.

So after his collegiate career ended in early June, it didn't take him long to pick up a baseball.

"When I'm not playing, it kind of eats at me," Bauer said.

It didn't take him long to start throwing again -- probably two weeks, he said -- and it didn't taken him long to sign his first Major League contract.

On Monday, Bauer and his family were at Chase Field as the D-backs announced the signing of the 2011 Golden Spikes Award winner.

The signing bonus was $3.4 million, a source told The guaranteed contract totals $4.4 million.

"I'm itching to get back out there," he said. "And I'm happy to have the opportunity to do that right now."

After following him since his teenage years in Southern California, the D-backs selected the UCLA junior right-hander with the third overall pick in the MLB First-Year Player Draft last month.

"This is a very exciting day for us, to welcome someone so accomplished in the amateur world who now takes the first step in his professional career," D-backs senior vice president of scouting and development Jerry Dipoto said.

At UCLA, Bauer was as dominant as they come in the collegiate ranks and became the first Bruins player to win the Golden Spikes Award, presented annually by USA Baseball to the nation's premier college player.

In three seasons, he became the school's record-holder in wins, strikeouts and innings, totaling a career mark of 34-8 with a 2.36 ERA and 460 strikeouts in 373 1/3 innings.

Last season, he went 13-2 with a 1.25 ERA and led the country with 203 strikeouts and 10 complete games.

"I'm definitely excited to get this part of the process taken care of and start the next phase, which is actually playing baseball, which is what I enjoy doing, so I'm pretty excited about that part," Bauer said.

The D-backs will send Bauer to High Class A Visalia, where he will start Saturday for the Rawhide against Stockton in his first professional start.

Dipoto said Bauer will throw two innings or around 40 pitches and won't come out of the bullpen.

"He's a starter," Dipoto said. "We're going to start off with a few shorter starts and reintroduce him to innings."

Bauer has been throwing two to three bullpen sessions a week, along with long toss and the use of weighted baseballs during his time away from the mound.

He spent four weeks in Houston at the Texas Baseball Ranch to better prepare for pitching in the Minors the rest of the season.

"It's something that I wanted to do, and this is something that I've been looking forward to," Bauer said.

The 20-year-old said that while he feels believes in his abilities enough that he could compete at the Major League level right now, he knows that the organization values performance over potential.

"Performance will dictate it all," Bauer said. "So it really depends on how I perform in the Minor Leagues, and I'm just trying to take it one day at a time and go out there to prepare and perform well."

Bauer threw 136 2/3 innings this season at UCLA, figures to throw around 35 Minor League innings this year and expects to throw 200-plus in the years to come given a clean bill of health.

"We're looking at this as an opportunity to build him towards 165-170 innings this year as we go through the rest of the season," Dipoto said.

"To answer the Major League opportunity or possibility question," Dipoto continued, "when you're as talented as Trevor is, anything's possible.

"We believe, obviously, that giving him a Major League contract right out of the chute that he's really close to being able to contribute at this level."

And Bauer has no reservations about moving through the D-backs Minor League system.

"I wouldn't want it any other way," the 6-foot-2, 185-pounder said. "I've always had to earn everything I've been given, so hopefully it stays the same from here on out, but I'd like to go out there and have a shot to prove that I can help this organization whether it be this year, next year or in the future."

And he said that his desire to get back onto the field was a driving force in getting his contract signed sooner rather than later.

"I wanted to sign as quickly as possible and get out and pitch," he said. "That's what they drafted me for and that's what I enjoy doing so it just seemed logical to get out there and pitch."

The D-backs have drafted pitchers in the first round in five of the past six years, including this year, with Bauer and No. 7 selection Archie Bradley, a right-hander out of Broken Arrow High School in Oklahoma.

"We are embarking on something new with this organization as we build a foundation of pitching," Dipoto said. "It's an exciting group of young guys, and we haven't even scratched the surface of what we're capable of."

Gibson's goal: Better slide slow by D-backs

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/25/11

PHOENIX -- Throughout the season, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson has talked extensively about the team adding skills.

"We want to have more tools in our tool chest," he said.

He's talked extensively about the team sharpening skills.

"We made a big thing about that in Spring Training," he said.

And during a weekend where two plays at the plate went two different ways for the D-backs, Gibson talked extensively about a tool he would like to see improve: Sliding.

"It's not something we're going to be able to correct right now," he admitted. "But I think it's something we're going to need to get better at as I look forward in general."

On Saturday, starting pitcher Josh Collmenter didn't slide and was thrown out.

On Sunday, right fielder Justin Upton slid and was called safe.

Both plays, lost in a pair of D-backs blowout victories, didn't mean as much for the game's outcome as they did to the manager.

"I probably tend to look more into that because I'm always trying to find a way to be safe and score runs," Gibson said.

And the D-backs didn't score a run in the sixth inning of Saturday night's game, when Collmenter was thrown out at home on a Gerardo Parra single to left field that looked to plate an easy run.

But a perfect relay from left, coupled with Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta standing at home plate -- in an apparent attempt to deke Collmenter -- and Upton standing behind home plate -- with his hands up, an apparent signal for Collmenter to cross the plate standing -- produced a bang-bang play at the plate.

"You never want to make it even that close," Collmenter said.

Because, as he quickly found out, it isn't good to give the fielders the benefit of the doubt, which he did by coming home standing. Home-plate umpire Derryl Cousins called him out on the play.

"That's going to happen," Gibson said. "We're going to make mistakes. The thing that you worry about is maybe [Upton] says 'slide' really late.

"One of the things that we talk about is having the on-deck guy in the proper position and when you have to slide, you have to be [saying] 'Down, down, down' or 'Up, up, up.' And that's just all part of the mechanics of what it takes to win a ballgame."

A day later, Upton scored on a fielder's choice to second base when, after Sean Burroughs hit a ground ball straight to Jonathan Herrera with the Rockies' infield playing in, a hook slide beat Iannetta's tag.

"It was very good," Gibson said Sunday. "We were talking about slides today and how they can affect a play, and there you got it.

"When I look at the game, I'm always looking for resources to get the job done and [Upton] showed you today specifically about sliding."

Upton said that the slide was instinctual and that he saw the play developing about halfway between third base and home.

"I'll be honest with you, I thought it was a bad read on my part," he said. "So I tried to make up for it and was able to score."

Gibson said that the team slid one time in Spring Training but stressed that practicing slides isn't something you can take the team out on the field and do consistently.

He's began to make a library of good slides for the team to watch next spring.

"As you can see, there's times when a better slide would have gained us an advantage or a poor slide didn't work out good for us," he said.

"There's an art to it."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Upton leads offense as D-backs blank Rox

By Anthony Fenech / | 7/24/2011

PHOENIX -- Sunday afternoon, the D-backs took what Ubaldo Jimenez gave them.

And then they took some more. And more. And then, with another impressive all-around performance, they took a three-game series from the Rockies with a 7-0 win in front of 28,090 at Chase Field.

"Things got hard, they got tough and we didn't look very good," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "But this is a big win. This series is a big win."

For the second straight night, Justin Upton powered the D-backs lineup, while the righty-lefty duo of Micah Owings and Zach Duke recorded the team's ninth shutout of the season in the finale of a 10-game homestand.

Gerardo Parra was a late scratch because of a sore left wrist, Kelly Johnson was out again with a sore left calf and Geoff Blum exited early with a broken right pinky, but the remaining D-backs cobbled together 11 hits while chasing Jimenez after five innings to leave Phoenix on a high note.

"I'm very proud of the guys today," Gibson said. "We threw a lineup out there and we didn't have a choice, these were the guys and they did a hell of a job."

Early on, it looked as if Jimenez would be the one chasing the D-backs out of town.

The Rockies right-hander struck out five of the first nine batters he faced before Willie Bloomquist, Xavier Nady and Upton strung together consecutive opposite-field hits with two outs in the third for an early lead.

Upton's double, which landed just inside the right-field line, scored both after back-to-back singles.

"Very frustrating," Jimenez said. "After getting the first two outs, you want to finish the inning right away. But they kept going the opposite way with me."

And the D-backs -- as has been customary of late against Jimenez -- didn't stop there, scoring a run in the fourth and two runs in the fifth before he was pulled.

"You just have to give the guys credit," Gibson said. "I told you guys a couple of days ago, I felt like we were ready to start swinging the bat. We've kind of gotten back into it."

In the fourth, Owings helped his own cause with a single up the middle, driving in Miguel Montero.

In the fifth, Nady led off the inning with a single before Upton smacked a broken-bat triple off the wall in right field.

Three batters later, Sean Burroughs scored Upton on a fielder's choice to second as Upton just beat a throw home with a nifty hook slide.

Burroughs took over for Blum in the third inning after Blum fractured his pinky fielding a ground ball in the second inning.

"Hopefully it will be a two-to three-week deal and we'll get back out there," Blum said.

The D-backs have now scored five or more runs in each of Jimenez' past three starts against them and have knocked him out of the game in the sixth inning or sooner each time.

He finished with five innings on Sunday, allowing five runs on eight hits while striking out eight and walking two.

Meanwhile, Owings held the Rockies scoreless in a spot start that Gibson said afterward wasn't so spotty after all.

After pitching in the bullpen for nearly two months, the right-hander threw five innings of two-hit baseball, striking out two and walking three.

"That's what we were hoping for," Gibson said. "He did a great job and, right now, he is our fifth guy. I think he'll probably get another start. Why wouldn't he?"

Owings continued his mastery of Colorado and now sports a 4-0 record with a 0.79 ERA (two earned runs in 22 2/3 innings) against them in his career.

"It felt great," Owings said. "Obviously, you never know how it's going to go, you just go out there and do the best you can."

Duke took over for Owings in the sixth and pitched four scoreless innings, allowing three hits to record his first career save.

"It's funny, because the other day during batting practice, when I found out I was starting, [Duke] said, 'You go five, and I'll go four,'" Owings said. "And that's what happened."

Ahead, 5-0, entering the sixth, the D-backs put the game away with two runs off reliever Matt Belisle on a single from Chris Young and a fielder's choice from Montero.

Upton singled in the eighth to complete a 4-for-4 day, raising his batting average to .301, and finished with nine hits for the series, the most in a series for his career.

"I don't know what's going on with me," Upton said. "I'm getting some bloop shots and squaring some balls up. The ball's just been falling for me."

Nady added two hits, scored three runs and was hit by a pitch.

The D-backs trail the Giants by four games in the National League West and embark on a nine-game road trip against division foes beginning Tuesday in San Diego.

"I know there's been some things written about where we're headed," Gibson said. "This team doesn't believe that."

Geoff Blum exits game after fracturing right pinky

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/24/11

PHOENIX -- Geoff Blum appears snakebitten.

"Yeah, pardon the pun, huh?" he said. "I told Kelly Johnson just a couple minutes ago that maybe this is what I get for wanting to play here."

And after breaking his right pinky finger early in Sunday afternoon's 7-0 win over the Rockies, the D-backs third baseman seems to be headed back to the disabled list a mere 10 games after coming off it.

"You get tested sometimes," he said. "Unfortunately, we have to go through it again."

Blum was injured while fielding a ground ball off the bat of Ryan Spilborghs in the second inning.

"He hit it pretty good, had some top spin on it," Blum said.

The ball jumped up and hit him on the end of the finger, but the 13-year veteran figured it was a typical bad hop kind of thing, until he faced Ubaldo Jimenez in the third inning.

"The second curve I swung at, I had absolutely no grip on my hand," he said.

Blum struck out looking in that at-bat, went into the field and tried to throw in the third inning, but there was a shooting pain.

He was lifted by D-backs manager Kirk Gibson for Sean Burroughs shortly thereafter.

"He's definitely out," Gibson said.

Blum will meet with Dr. Don Sheridan on Monday, who will determine how serious the break is and how long he will be out.

"Hopefully it will be a two- to three-week deal and we'll get back out there," Blum said.

The 38-year-old hit .214 (3-for-14) in six games prior to Sunday after being sidelined for the first three-plus months of the season because of right knee surgery.

"I'm getting to know the team physicians around here pretty good, unfortunately," Blum said. "But they took good care of me the first time with my knee, and I know they'll do a good job with the hand."

Parra out of lineup with sore left wrist

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/24/11

PHOENIX -- Right fielder Gerardo Parra was a late scratch from Sunday's lineup for the D-backs because of a sore left wrist after being hit by a pitch on Saturday night.

"It's fine," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said, noting that X-rays taken last night came back negative.

Parra, who had two hits, two walks and scored three times on Saturday, has a hit in 13 of his last 20 games.

"He had a great game in the No. 2 hole, and I've talked to you guys about moving him up," Gibson said. "He was more patient and he can be that way.

"It's baby steps for him. He's been here for a while, yet he's very, very young."

Xavier Nady filled Parra's spot in the lineup against Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez, playing left field and hitting second on Sunday.

Also shelved, for the second consecutive day, was second baseman Kelly Johnson, who was removed from Friday night's game with left calf soreness.

"Just sore," Gibson said of Johnson.

Series with Rockies a family affair for Young

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/24/11

PHOENIX -- D-backs first-base coach Eric Young remembers watching his son Eric Jr. in Little League.

"I had to contain my emotions back then," Young admitted.

But it was nothing like Friday night, when Eric Jr. made his first appearance in front of his dad on a big league diamond as a pinch-hitter.

"I got chills and I was smiling so wide inside that I had to contain it," Young said. "I just went back to watching him as a Little Leaguer going up to hit, and it was just an awesome feeling."

And it was almost an empty feeling for Young's youngest son, Dallas, who hasn't yet grasped the difference between the Major and Minor Leagues and wondered Wednesday night if he was going to see his older brother.

"He asked, saying '[The D-backs are] playing the Rockies, dad,'" Young said. "And we had to explain to him that, no, your brother won't be here."

But Young Jr. was recalled by Colorado from Triple-A Colorado Springs on Thursday, which made for perfect timing.

"I think, for me, more than watching Junior play, to have both of my sons here is why it was such a special weekend for me," Young said.

They were able to get lunch before Friday's series opener, and while Young hoped that his son would get a start or two during the series, watching him draw a walk on Friday as a pinch-hitter was enough.

"I said that, 'If [you don't start], do your thing as a pinch-hitter," Young said.

In parts of three big league seasons, Young Jr. has a .242 average in 277 at-bats with 25 stolen bases.

Collmenter credits curveball for hot streak

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/24/11

PHOENIX -- Josh Collmenter isn't the same pitcher he was a month or two ago.

For proof, look at the numbers.

Two straight victories, three straight quality starts and on Saturday, with a scoreless first inning, he recorded a scoreless streak of 15 innings for the second time this season.

The results, Collmenter said, are due in no small part to his newfound confidence in his curveball.

"I've been able to get some outs with it and I've been more confident to throw it in situations that I probably wouldn't have earlier in the season," he said.

Collmenter said that battery mate Miguel Montero called for more curveballs in Saturday's win.

"It's good to see that he has confidence in it and that he knows I can execute that pitch," Collmenter said. "It's good to execute that third pitch, especially for seeing hitters the second and third time around."

The 25-year-old right-hander has a 5-5 record with a 3.00 ERA in 13 starts this season.

"I like to see it," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said of Collmenter's curveball. "I think if he's going to continue to be a starter, that's always good to have a third pitch.

"But he knows how to pitch."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Upton, Montero beat Rockies into submission

By Anthony Fenech / | 7/23/2011

PHOENIX -- Earlier in the week, after the D-backs hit three home runs in a victory over the Brewers, manager Kirk Gibson said that he thought his team was ready to emerge from a post-All-Star break slump.

"I feel like we're coming out of it," he said on Thursday.

Two days later, the team had done just that.

The D-backs broke out of it early and often on Saturday evening, as they put up crooked number after crooked number on the Chase Field scoreboard in a 12-3 victory over the Rockies.

Their first six batters reached base, Justin Upton drove in six runs and Miguel Montero drove in five in the team's biggest offensive outburst in over a month.

"It was good," Gibson said. "We haven't done that in a while."

And while Friday night's postgame fireworks show had long since ended, the team put on an early fireworks display for the 34,849 in attendance on Saturday.

Willie Bloomquist singled to start the shellacking, and by the time the first inning ended, the D-backs had five runs on five hits against Rockies right-hander Jason Hammel. The team batted around in the first, providing Josh Collmenter with a comfortable cushion and the most run support he's enjoyed all year.

"Obviously, this was an ideal situation to jump on [Hammel] really quick," Gibson said. "It's easier to be a pitcher when you have a five-run lead in the first inning."

Upton and Montero both delivered two-run doubles in the opening frame, while Collmenter collected his first career RBI on a single up the middle to put the Rockies in a hole they wouldn't emerge from.

But the offense wasn't finished there.

The next inning, Montero -- who entered the game 1-for-11 lifetime against Hammel -- socked an 0-2 breaking ball into the right-field seats for a two-run home run, giving the D-backs a 7-1 lead.

"I was looking fastball the whole time," Montero admitted. "It was a lucky one."

And while the D-backs loaded up on baserunners -- to the tune of 14 hits, seven walks and a hit batter -- Collmenter cruised to a second consecutive victory in his third straight quality start.

The right-hander pitched seven innings, allowing three runs on six hits, while striking out three and walking none, for his sixth victory of the season.

"It's big anytime you have a lead when you're a pitcher, especially early on," Collmenter said. "It gives you a little cushion out there, and lets you ease into it and get more comfortable on the mound -- knowing you don't have to be quite as perfect."

And at the plate, he recorded his first multi-hit game when he added a sixth-inning single.

"It was nice to get a couple of those," he said. "It's been a while. I was just trying to hit the ball up the middle, that's what your coach from Little League on up says. So I guess in the back of my mind, that's what I was thinking."

Hammel labored through 5 2/3 innings, allowing eight runs on 12 hits. He struck out seven and walked four.

"Warming up in the bullpen, I felt I had no-hit stuff," Hammel said. "So yes, very frustrating."

The Rockies touched Collmenter up for runs in the second inning -- on Troy Tulowitzki's 19th home run of the year, a solo shot to right field -- and in the third, when Ty Wigginton singled home two runs.

And while Collmenter threw at least seven innings without issuing a walk for the second time this season, the D-backs offense scored at least 12 runs for the fourth time this season.

"You can come in here and have some energy and have some fun," Gibson said. "And I think we did that before the game, and it carried into the game."

But the fun didn't stop until Upton had his turn to put an exclamation point on the proceedings with a seventh-inning grand slam to left field, his 17th home run of the season and second career grand slam.

The home run came on the first pitch by Colorado left-handed reliever Eric Stults, who hit Gerardo Parra on the wrist one batter earlier.

"He left it over the inner half of the plate, it was up and I barreled it up," Upton said.

The upper-deck blast tied Upton's career-high of six RBIs, and Upton and Montero became the first pair of D-backs teammates to each record five RBIs in a single game.

"That's nice," Montero said of the accomplishment. "What can I say? It's pretty good."

"I feel good at the plate," he said. "I'm trying to stay a little bit quieter at the plate, trying to get better pitches to hit -- and it shows in the results."

With the win, the D-backs kept pace with the Giants in the National League West, and will oppose Ubaldo Jimenez in the rubber game of the series on Sunday afternoon.

"I like it when they feel good about themselves," Gibson said about his team. "Hopefully, this will carry into [Sunday] and beyond that."

Hemond honored in Cooperstown

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/23/11

PHOENIX -- D-backs special assistant to the president and CEO Roland Hemond received the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Saturday.

"He's like my Ernie Harwell," Gibson said, in reference to the Tigers' legendary broadcaster. "I've just now been able to spend real time with Roland since I've been in this organization, and this is time well spent."

Hemond, who is in the fifth season of his second tour of duty with the D-backs, is a three-time MLB Executive of the Year Award winner, and has 60 years of professional baseball experience.

Hemond's baseball career began in 1951 as a front office member of the Eastern League's Hartford Chiefs, and he spent 23 seasons as a general manager for the White Sox and Orioles.

"The thing about these guys, they've served the game for so long," Gibson said. "For many, many, many years -- and the most amazing thing about it is not only their contributions and things that they have accomplished, but their recall of it."

And Gibson recalled his first at-bat against Bert Blyleven, the former Twins pitcher set to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Gibson faced Blyleven in his first game, a Spring Training contest in Bradenton, Fla., in 1978.

"I struck out three times on about nine pitches," Gibson said. "They were all curveballs, and I had never seen a curveball quite like that before. It was like, 'Oh my gosh.'

"It certainly distinguished him from others, because that was the best curveball I saw."

Roberto Alomar, Blyleven and Pat Gillick make up the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Class of 2011. Sunday's annual induction ceremony behind the Clark Sports Center, which is about a mile from the famous red-brick museum, will be broadcast live on and MLB Network beginning at 8:30 a.m. MST.

Johnson day to day with calf soreness

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/23/11

PHOENIX -- D-backs manager Kirk Gibson didn't know where Kelly Johnson was before Saturday evening's game, but knew the second baseman wouldn't be in the starting lineup.

"I haven't seen him yet today," Gibson said in his pregame meeting with the media. "I knew I wasn't going to play him today."

Johnson left Friday night's game with soreness in his left calf, something that Gibson said the team will follow on a day-to-day basis.

"He's been sore. But they deal with aches and pains all along, and they're usually able to resolve most of it," Gibson said.

The second baseman is hitting .218 on the season, with 17 home runs and 44 RBIs. He's played 92 games.

After hitting a two-run home run in Thursday's game against the Brewers, Johnson ran out two hard ground balls on Friday night, before being removed from the game for precautionary reasons.

"We became concerned about it, and wanted to see how it responds today," Gibson said.

The skipper said that he believed Johnson would be able to pinch-hit, but added with a wry smile, "Even if he wasn't, I would tell you he was."

Bloomquist provides spark to D-backs

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/23/11

PHOENIX -- Willie Bloomquist isn't Stephen Drew.

Bloomquist knows it, his manager knows it. But two games into his everyday role at shortstop, the veteran hasn't showed it.

Since the season-ending Drew injury, Bloomquist is 4-for-14, as the D-backs' resident pest at the top of the order.

"He plays with a lot of energy," manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's done pretty well for us. He started off the season very good at leadoff, gave us a lot of energy. And then he got hurt, went on the [disabled list] and kind of lost that.

"Now, he's kind of regained that again, and I think he understands what the loss of Stephen means. And that's the kind of guy you want to have that's going to fill in for Stephen."

Bloomquist led off Saturday's game with a single, and scored two batters later on a Justin Upton double, part of a five-run Arizona first inning off Rockies starter Jason Hammel.

He looks to get most of his playing time at shortstop in the leadoff spot.

"He understands it," Gibson said. "He's pesky on the bases, he's pretty good at disrupting over there when he's on first. He battles and understands the game situations. He walks and fouls a lot of pitches off."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Vote now for former All-Star pitcher Johnson

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/22/11

PHOENIX -- Randy Johnson has received Cy Young Award votes.

He's received All-Star votes, MVP votes and one day, he will receive Hall-of-Fame votes.

Now, the retired left-hander needs your vote to get elected to the Pepsi Max Field of Dreams "Dream Team."

The Pepsi Max Field of Dreams campaign has nominated three all-time greats at each position, from catcher to reliever, and the leading vote-getters at each position will be selected to the "Dream Team."

From now through Aug. 31, vote up to 25 times a day for these living legends and help create the Pepsi MAX Field of Dreams Team. For each ballot cast, you will be entered to win a chance to take on the winning "Dream Team" with 10 of your friends on your home turf next spring, surrounded by family, friends and media.

The more you vote, the better a chance you have of winning the sweepstakes.

Johnson, whose 4,875 strikeouts stands second all-time, pitched 22 big league seasons -- including eight in Arizona -- and won five Cy Young Awards and was named to the All-Star team 10 times.

He won 303 games, compiled a career ERA of 3.29 and shared World Series MVP honors while delivering the D-backs their only World Series title in 2001.

In 2004, he pitched a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves, striking out 13 batters in recording the 17th perfect game in Major League Baseball history.

After beginning his career with the Montreal Expos, Johnson was traded to Seattle, where he pitched 10 seasons and established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball with the Mariners.

He was traded midseason to the Astros in 1998 and signed as a free agent with the D-backs the following off-season.

The lanky left-hander pitched six seasons in Arizona, and was traded to the Yankees, pitched two seasons in New York before being returned to the D-backs via trade and finishing up his career as a member of the Giants. He pitched until he was 45 years old and retired after the 2009 season with the highest strikeouts per nine innings ratio at 10.6.

He is up against Phillies right-hander Steve Carlton and Braves right-hander Greg Maddux.

Four fan finalists will be announced in September and will vie for votes to determine whose team will play the legends in their hometown.

The winner will be announced during the MLB postseason.

So what are you waiting for? Cast your ballots now, start building your all-time dream team now and you could end up playing against them in your own backyard!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Kennedy, D-backs bullpen blank Brewers

By Anthony Fenech / | 7/22/2011

PHOENIX -- One day after Stephen Drew ran through a red light in the fourth inning and hurt his ankle, Justin Upton was given a green light in the fourth inning and hurt Milwaukee's Zack Greinke.

Upton pounced on a 3-0 offering from Greinke and pounded it into the upper deck for a solo home run, giving starting pitcher Ian Kennedy all the offense he'd need in a 4-0 win at Chase Field.

"I hit that one pretty good," Upton said. "[Greinke has] a good fastball, and he's not the type of guy that's going to pitch around anybody."

Greinke didn't pitch around Upton, and he watched as the right fielder's 16th home run of the season traveled to left-center for the first of three D-backs round-trippers on the day.

"You kind of play with fire once you get to [ball three]," Greinke said. "You throw a strike, see what happens and hope for the best. He hit it."

With the win, the D-backs secured a split of the four-game series against the National League Central-leading Brewers.

"We're happy to see them go," manager Kirk Gibson said. "Fortunately, we got them -- not by a ton, but they were very tough games for us to play."

Miguel Montero followed Upton's lead two batters later, hitting his 11th home run of the season, to left field. Kelly Johnson put an exclamation point on the win in the eighth inning with a two-run opposite-field homer, his 17th.

"When you win a game and you hit some home runs, it tends to make you feel better," Gibson said.

The multi-homer inning was the D-backs' eighth of the season, and they trail only the Brewers in the NL in this department.

While the D-backs were showing off their power stroke, Kennedy was keeping the Brewers' power hitters off balance en route to picking up his 11th victory.

The right-hander pitched seven innings, allowing no runs on four hits, striking out five and walking two.

"I felt like I was throwing pretty good," Kennedy said. "We needed to even this series out, and I knew Greinke was going to give us a tough game. A couple of guys hit home runs, and tonight that's what we needed."

Kennedy held the Brewers hitless in six chances with runners in scoring position and wasn't threatened for much of the night outside the fifth inning before Bryan Shaw took over in the eighth inning.

In that fifth inning, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Lucroy hit back-to-back singles with one out, then Greinke sacrificed them into scoring position for right fielder Corey Hart.

With a base open and his team ahead by two runs, Kennedy walked Hart and retired Nyjer Morgan on a flyout to center to end the inning.

"I wasn't going to give Hart anything to hit," Kennedy said. "We saw what he can do this series. If he puts the barrel on the ball, he hits it pretty far, and he could have put them ahead by one swing."

Kennedy threw seven innings for the 12th time this year, which ties him for fourth in the NL, and held his opponent to one run or fewers for the 10th time, which ties for fourth in the Majors.

"He's unbelievable," Upton said. "He goes out there, he pounds the zone and keeps us on our toes, and we love playing behind him."

After coming on in relief of Kennedy, Shaw allowed a leadoff single to Hart and plunked Morgan before navigating his way out of that jam with the help of a pitcher's best friend, a shortstop-to-second double play on a ball hit by Ryan Braun.

"I just stuck with my best pitch," Shaw said of that first-pitch disposal of Braun. "I went with my cutter away and got him to chase a little bit and roll over."

With two outs, Gibson summoned left-hander Joe Paterson to face the left-handed-hitting Prince Fielder, who was sent back to the dugout after flailing at three breaking balls.

Fielder, roundly booed the entire series for not choosing Upton to participate in this year's Home Run Derby, went 1-for-16 in the series.

"We're very lucky," Gibson. "We pitched [Fielder] good, but these guys are a good team. They're very, very tough to play against and very explosive."

David Hernandez pitched a scoreless ninth inning, and after he struck out Betancourt swinging, the D-backs gained a half-game on the Giants in the NL West and now stand four games out.

"The victory helps us move on from yesterday," Gibson said. "It was a tough loss, and the guys bounced back and played well tonight."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Drew's season is over after fracturing right ankle

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/20/11

PHOENIX -- Stephen Drew's season is over.

D-backs manager Kirk Gibson confirmed that his shortstop wouldn't be back this year after Drew fractured his right ankle sliding into home plate in the fourth inning of Arizona's 5-2 loss in 10 innings to the Brewers on Wednesday.

"It's disappointing, and we know how important Stephen is," Gibson said. "But if you've been around the game a while, it happens. It's fairly common that you're going to lose star players. You hope it doesn't happen to you."

Drew needs surgery and will undergo tests on Thursday to see what the extent of the injury is.

He was injured trying to score from second base on a double by Chris Young to left field, when Ryan Braun's relay to Casey McGehee beat him on a feet-first slide at the plate, which Jonathan Lucroy was blocking. Drew, who ran through a stop sign from third-base coach Matt Williams, caught his foot on Lucroy as he slid past the catcher.

"Home plate, it's a dangerous place where collisions happen and slides happen and there's a lot of blocking and stuff like that," Gibson said.

Drew couldn't get up and was helped off the field by two trainers.

"He's a shortstop," infielder Ryan Roberts said. "That's the captain of the infield right there. Look around the league and all the big-name players play shortstop, so it's a big loss for the team and we'll find a way to bounce back from it."

Drew was hitting .252 on the season with five home runs and 45 RBIs. He recorded a .980 fielding percentage and made seven errors.

Gibson said he didn't have any answers on filling Drew's spot, but veteran Willie Bloomquist figures to see action at shortstop in the immediate future.

"We're certainly going to miss him," Bloomquist said. "He's a huge part of this team. We're going to have to find a way to pick up the slack, and I'm going to have to figure out a way to elevate and do things a little bit sharper and a little bit better."

In his four full years manning the middle of the D-backs' diamond, Drew has played 150-plus games three times and has twice had to go on the 15-day disabled list -- in 2006 and '09 -- both hamstring injuries.

He has a .269 career average with 70 home runs, 321 RBIs and a .978 fielding percentage.

"We now know what the Giants are feeling," Gibson said, referring to the season-ending injury to San Francisco's star catcher Buster Posey earlier this year. "We're in a similar situation [with] this and we'll have to find a way to get through it. There's nothing we can do about it.

"We wish him well and hope that he has a good recovery and he'll be able to resume his career next year."

Braun's would-be second homer overturned

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/20/11

PHOENIX -- Ryan Braun was denied his second home run of the game in the top of the eighth inning of the Brewers' 5-2 win on Wednesday night after umpires overturned a long drive with instant replay.

With Milwaukee holding a 2-0 lead over Arizona, Braun jumped on a 1-0 offering from reliever Bryan Shaw and hit down the right-field line and over the fence.

Initially ruled a home run by first-base umpire Marvin Hudson, the Tim McClelland-chiefed crew reviewed the play and overturned it.

Video replays confirmed the ball leaving the field of play to the right of the foul pole.

Did Braun know the ball was foul?

"Honestly, I couldn't tell," Braun said. "I knew it was close, but I couldn't really tell whether it was fair or foul. I knew by [D-backs right fielder Justin Upton's] reaction that he was pretty sure it was foul."

It was the fifth home run overturned via replay in D-backs games this season and the third at Chase Field. The Brewers have been involved in three replay situations this season.

Braun doubled on the next pitch.

Cook shocked to get callup from D-backs

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/20/11

PHOENIX -- Ryan Cook was on a bus in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Tuesday with his Double-A Mobile BayBears teammates when manager Turner Ward stopped to address the team.

"He told everybody to enjoy our off-day and that when we got back, the schedule would be the same," Cook said.

What Cook didn't know at the moment was that he wouldn't be back and that his schedule wouldn't be the same.

"Then he told [us] that [we] might want to turn the TV on tomorrow night, check it out and watch the D-backs game, because [we] might get to watch one of [our] teammates pitch," Cook said.

"Everyone kind of lost it on the bus."

Cook, a 24-year-old right-handed reliever, was called up on Wednesday along with reliever Bryan Shaw, while the D-backs outrighted reliever Yhency Brazoban and optioned starter Barry Enright to Triple-A Reno.

"It was a shock to me," Cook said. "I was just going about my business and the next thing you know, I got the call."

In Mobile, Cook took over the closer's duties after Shaw was promoted to Reno earlier this year.

He had a 2.25 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 44 innings for Mobile.

D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said he would probably slot Cook into a fifth-through-seventh-inning role.

"He's been evaluated from everybody in the organization throughout the year, and I think they feel that he's got the kind of stuff that can help us," Gibson said.

He noted that both moves were made after the bullpen was heavily taxed in Tuesday night's 11-3 loss to the Brewers.

"We wanted to have our bullpen recharged," Gibson said. "We didn't want to be short down there."

Putz nearing return from disabled list

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/20/11

PHOENIX -- D-backs closer J.J. Putz has only one more hurdle to clear before being activated from the disabled list.

"Personally, I'd like to see him pitch back-to-back [days]," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "I want to make sure. I don't want him to be available one day in the closer's role and not the other."

Putz pitched an inning of scoreless relief on Tuesday night in extended spring training, threw 17 pitches, induced three ground-ball outs and reported no discomfort on Wednesday.

"It went well," Putz said. "Everything feels good. I still think I need maybe one more outing in a competitive atmosphere."

Gibson said on Wednesday that he expects Putz to head to Triple-A Reno and pitch Friday and Saturday before the team makes a decision on when to bring him back.

"It depends on when I go back-to-back days," Putz said. "I figure if I pitch Friday and don't pitch Saturday, it's kind of pointless for one game then a day off.

"It's good to get out there that second day and see how everything feels," he continued. "Not so much how you feel that day, but after those two days."

Putz has 21 saves with a 3.12 ERA in 34 games this season. He has been sidelined since July 1 with a right elbow injury.

"Realistically, probably the beginning of the next road trip," he said.

One day later, Allen's blast still amazes

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/20/11

PHOENIX -- If it wasn't for the second deck at Chase Field, Brandon Allen's fifth-inning home run on Tuesday night might still be going.

"It was the farthest left-handed-hit home run I've seen here," right fielder Justin Upton said.

Upton was caught by cameras looking in amazement as the ball landed.

"Statistics say I hit a couple longer," Upton said. "I don't believe it."

Allen's homer carried an estimated 455 feet by ESPN Stats and Information.

"I guess it was a good shot," Allen said after Tuesday's loss. "I'll take it."

D-backs manager Kirk Gibson, who was known to hit a long home run or two back in his day, was as amazed as Upton with the home run.

"Oh, my gosh," he said. "How do they measure that?"

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Homers spoil Enright's return to D-backs

By Anthony Fenech / | 7/19/2011

PHOENIX -- It wasn't the start Barry Enright hoped for.

First, a home run. Then, a single and a home run. Then, a couple of outs later, another single followed by another home run.

"You never want to come up here and start a game like that," he said.

Five runs and six hits later, Enright escaped his first inning since being recalled from the Minor Leagues, but the deficit was too deep for the D-backs to dig out of as they fell, 11-3, to the Brewers on Tuesday night at Chase Field.

"It's very cliché," Enright said, "but it was one of those games. It's very disappointing, obviously, to come up here and disappoint these guys, myself and have a loss for these guys when they're playing great."

He allowed a leadoff home run to Corey Hart and two-run home runs to Ryan Braun and Yuniesky Betancourt as the powerful Milwaukee lineup rudely welcomed the right-hander back to the big leagues after his two-plus months at Triple-A Reno.

"He had a bad game tonight," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He didn't throw quality pitches. He left a cement mixer over the plate, they pounded it. He left three fastballs over the plate, they pounded it."

"When you put them over the plate, sometimes that's what happens," Hart said. "We didn't miss the ones he put over."

Enright followed the worst inning of his Major League career with a perfect inning, before allowing a solo home run to Rickie Weeks in the third and being lifted for reliever Zach Duke -- whose spot he took in the rotation -- after the frame.

His final line was three innings, six runs on seven hits with two strikeouts.

"To put the ball down the middle for those guys, the first inning especially," Enright said, "it's not acceptable. Location is going to be who I am."

True to form, the D-backs responded to Enright's first-inning shellacking with two runs in their half of the frame off Yovani Gallardo on an RBI single by Justin Upton and a sacrifice fly by Miguel Montero.

Upton's single broke an 0-for-20 skid and was one of two hits the right fielder had on the night.

And when first baseman Brandon Allen disposed of a Gallardo fastball inside the foul pole and into the second deck in right field -- at an ESPN Stats and Information-estimated 455 feet -- it looked as if the D-backs were ready to pull off their 26th comeback win.

"I didn't really look at it," Allen said, when asked if he had ever hit a ball that far in a game. "But I don't think so."

But a bullpen implosion in the sixth inning erased any thoughts of a rally.

After Duke allowed back-to-back singles to Betancourt and Jonathan Lucroy and walked Gallardo to start the inning, he was relieved by right-hander Yhency Brazoban, who walked in two runs and forced home another on a hit-by-pitch before Gibson went back to the bullpen.

"You're not going to get yourself out of trouble doing that," Gibson said. "We know that, so we have to find people that can perform in those situations."

Micah Owings eliminated any further damage, inducing a double play from Prince Fielder and a groundout from Weeks to escape the bases-loaded, no-out jam.

The D-backs, however, wouldn't threaten any further damage, singling twice in the final four frames, and Betancourt put an exclamation point on the Brewers' 11-run, 14-hit assault with a two-run home run in the ninth off Sam Demel for the team's fifth home run of the game.

"In all aspects of the game we didn't play well," Gibson said. "So it seems really bad. It's not that bad. We've got a game tomorrow. We'll be fine."

With the loss, the D-backs fell to 4 1/2 games behind the Giants in the National League West.

"We'll absorb it and move on," Gibson continued. "We're going to write it off, we're going to regroup, have a good attitude tomorrow and believe that we're going to win the game."

Gibson can relate to Heilman's situation

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/19/11

PHOENIX -- D-backs manager Kirk Gibson was released in 1992, a month into the season as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"There's no easy way, there's no joy to it," he said. "It stinks."

Which is why it was tough to release reliever Aaron Heilman after Monday night's victory.

"I remember what Aaron did for us last year, as well as the effort he put in this year," Gibson said. "He gave 100 percent effort all the time, it's just one of those deals and the way the game moves sometimes."

Heilman, 32, went 4-1 with a 6.88 ERA (27 earned runs in 35 1/3 innings) with 11 walks and 33 strikeouts in 32 games with the D-backs this season. He joined Arizona last year after one season with the Cubs and six with the Mets, the team that drafted him in 2001.

"I knew exactly how he felt," Gibson said. "But I encouraged him to believe in himself and that maybe there was a better opportunity, maybe it will help his career."

Gibson's 1992 release helped him, as he played three productive seasons in Detroit after that to finish his career.

"I'm sure he'll draw some interest," he said. "He throws the ball fine, he just hasn't had a good year for us."

Roberts swinging hot bat since break

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/19/11

PHOENIX -- In Monday's postgame press conference, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson playfully referred to Ryan Roberts this way:

"He's good and he's a knucklehead, too," Gibson said. "Reminds me a lot of his manager."

In the 3-0 win over the Brewers, Roberts hit his 13th home run of the year and second in as many days. It was the second time this year he's homered in consecutive days.

He's 4-for-9 since the All-Star break and has hit safely in each start during that span.

"I was just struggling right before the break," he said. "I wasn't tired, I didn't feel like I needed a break, but it did obviously help to rest the body.

"It was just one of those moments in baseball where it wasn't going right for me."

The 30-year-old infielder is hitting .263 with 40 RBIs and 13 stolen bases entering Tuesday's game.

"He's so anxious to do right and do well that he takes everything you say," Gibson said. "He doesn't take it with a grain of salt, he really takes it to heart and sometimes looks a little further than what it is.

"I can relate to that. I love his eagerness, his desire, determination and the way he plays."

Roberts hit leadoff and started at third base on Tuesday.

Duke ready to help D-backs out of bullpen

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/19/11

PHOENIX -- Zach Duke knows his role.

"My job is to get guys out when I have the opportunity to get them out," the D-backs left-hander said on Tuesday.

"I'm just going to try to help this team win games any way that I can."

And with the recent callup of Barry Enright to fill out the back end of the rotation, Duke, a starter by trade, will get his first experience in the bullpen.

"It's a new challenge," he said. "It will be a different experience."

The 28-year-old has struggled in a starting role this year with a 2-4 record and a 5.47 ERA in nine starts. His D-backs tenure began in late May after he injured his pitching hand on a line-drive comebacker in Spring Training.

D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said he was unsure of the role Duke will fill, but could see him used in both long relief and special left-handed situations.

"He's gotten left-handers out better than he has right-handers," Gibson said. "But we could use him in long relief, obviously. He would give us some length."

Duke, who hasn't pitched since the All-Star break, said he has been preparing the same as he would if he were starting.

"I just prepare everyday to be ready to pitch," he said. "That way, whenever the phone rings and it's my time, I'm prepared to give everything I've got."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Collmenter uncorks best start of young career

By Anthony Fenech / | 7/18/2011

PHOENIX -- Before Monday night's opener with the Brewers, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson was asked what he wanted from starting pitcher Josh Collmenter.

"I'd like to see a complete game," he said. "But we know that might not happen."

Collmenter tried his hardest to prove his manager's words true, pitching eight dominant innings in a 3-0 victory in the midst of a dust storm and in front of 17,404 at Chase Field.

"He threw an exceptional game," Gibson said. "No question."

Collmenter blanked the Brewers for the second straight game, registered the longest outing of his career and extended his scoreless streak to 14 innings -- all of those coming against Milwaukee.

"I think today was a culmination of everything that I can do as a pitcher," the right-handed rookie said. "I really had everything working and kept them off-balance."

On July 6 at Miller Park, Collmenter allowed three hits, struck out three and walked one in six innings.

On Monday, he allowed three hits, struck out seven and walked none over 105 pitches (74 strikes).

"I just wanted to make sure I went out there and didn't change a whole lot from last time," Collmenter said. "And see how they'd react and adjust to what I was doing, and I was able to kind of plug along and get some early outs and some quick innings when I needed them."

Collmenter was backed by a fine defensive play from Willie Bloomquist in the first inning and a two-run home run by Ryan Roberts in the sixth.

With Nyjer Morgan on second base with two outs in the first and Prince Fielder up, the Brewers first baseman -- who was booed consistently throughout the game -- lined sharply into the hole at shortstop.

Bloomquist laid out to make a back-handed stab in the outfield grass and with Morgan trying to score from second, threw from his knees to Henry Blanco, who was blocking the plate.

"He made a great play and a great throw from his knees," Gibson said, ensuring the play did not go unnoticed.

The D-backs opened the scoring in the third when Gerardo Parra grounded into a double play to score Blanco with the bases loaded.

Roberts' blast came with two outs in the sixth, immediately after Chris Young doubled, and traveled deep into the left-field seats for his second home run in as many games.

"I did everything I could do," said Brewers starter Randy Wolf. "I made a mistake, that happens. I did my job to the best of my ability.

Meanwhile, Collmenter was working through the Brewers' lineup with ease, at one point retiring 12 straight batters -- a career-high -- from the start of the second inning through the end of the fifth.

In fact, he retired 21 of 22 batters after the first inning, with the lone hit a Yuniesky Betancourt bunt single that led off the sixth.

"I kind of got locked in," Collmenter said. "It's good as a pitcher when you're in those zones, and it was definitely good to get back on track, with the last one before the break and now this one after the break, and give our rotation momentum."

Wolf bent but did not break, pitching seven serviceable innings, allowing two earned runs on eight hits and striking out three.

He escaped unscathed from a pair of two-on, no-out jams and surrendered only a run on the double-play ball in the third after the D-backs loaded the bases with no outs.

"Honestly, we didn't make use of our opportunities," Gibson said. "You just have to deal with that and keep playing."

Gibson said he didn't seriously consider leaving Collmenter in for the ninth to earn his first career complete game.

"Just because of where he's at, his youth and how far we pushed him," Gibson said. "You just worry about doing the right thing sometimes with those guys. But after the eighth inning, we knew he was done."

And while he understood his manager's decision, Collmenter said he wanted to keep pitching.

"I didn't know how many pitches I was at," he said. "I thought I was right around 100, and anytime you get to that position, you want to be able to finish it."

Instead, David Hernandez picked up his ninth save of the season, sitting the Brewers down in order in the ninth.

The D-backs' third straight victory kept them 3 1/2 games behind the Giants, who blanked the Dodgers, in the National League West.

"We haven't been swinging the bats great since we've come back from the All-Star break," Gibson said. "But here we've won three out of four games, so that's the part we're after."

Heilman's stint with D-backs may be over

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/18/11

PHOENIX -- It appears that Aaron Heilman's time with the D-backs could be nearing its end.

After Monday night's 3-0 victory over the Brewers, the reliever shook hands with teammates, cleaned out his locker and exited the clubhouse with a D-backs duffel bag and a large cardboard box of belongings.

Although no roster move has been announced by the organization, Heilman's release could be the move associated with starting pitcher Barry Enright's expected callup. Gibson said on Friday that Enright would be summoned from Triple-A Reno for Tuesday's start against the Brewers.

Heilman re-signed with the D-backs on a one-year, $2 million deal in the offseason.

After he was unable to win a rotation spot out of Spring Training, the right-hander struggled out of the bullpen, posting a 6.88 ERA in 32 games. He struck out 33 batters in 35 1/3 innings and allowed opponents a .318 batting average.

The 32-year-old had a 4.50 ERA with six saves in 70 games for the D-backs in 2010.

D-backs' family day a big hit with players

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/18/11

PHOENIX -- "Little X" just wanted to run the bases.

"We ran around once," D-backs first baseman Xavier Nady said of his son, Xavier. "And he was wiped out."

The D-backs held a family day gathering in right field for the players and their children after Sunday's win over the Dodgers.

"It was cool," Nady said. "When you have a chance to let the kids run around and be around other kids, it's always a good time."

Everyone took a family picture, some -- like "Little X," as the D-backs call him -- ran the bases, others took batting practice in the outfield and some were too small to venture on their own.

"I like family day, because I get to spend time with my kids on the field and take a good picture," said D-backs catcher Miguel Montero.

Montero's son, Angel, was stuck in his dad's arms during the get-together, just like during the All-Star Game media availability, when he poked at microphones.

Starting pitcher Joe Saunders was there with his two daughters, Mattea and Avellina.

"It gives us a chance to take some pictures and gives them a chance to have a smile on their face," Saunders said. "It's a lot of fun for them and it makes us smile too, which is nice."

Putz throws smooth inning; Drew sits out

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/18/11

PHOENIX -- D-backs reliever J.J. Putz threw a successful inning Sunday night in extended spring training.

When asked about it, Putz gave a thumbs-up, indicating everything went smooth.

D-backs manager Kirk Gibson and pitching coach Charles Nagy were in attendance. Gibson said he expected Putz to throw again on Tuesday.

"He'd like to be activated probably, but I'd like to be more convinced that we're doing the right thing," he said. "I want to see him bounce back on Tuesday for sure."

Shortstop Stephen Drew wasn't in the lineup Monday night against Brewers left-hander Randy Wolf.

"He's not in the lineup, but he might win the game," Gibson said.

Drew hasn't had a multi-hit game since June 23 and is hitting .254 on the season.

"He hasn't been swinging the bat as well as he has in the past," Gibson said. "But he's out there right now, as we speak, working on it. That's what they do."

Upton trying to crack season-worst slump

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/18/11

PHOENIX -- Monday was "No Media Day," Justin Upton said with a smile.

And he wasn't kidding.

The D-backs right fielder wasn't in a talking mood before a hitter's meeting prior to the start of a four-game series with the Brewers. The Dodgers held Upton hitless in 11 at-bats over the weekend.

"He was on fire," said D-backs manager Kirk Gibson. "Not many guys do that all year long, but he's still very dangerous."

On July 5, Upton hit a solo home run off Monday's starter, Randy Wolf, in a 7-3 victory over Milwaukee. He scored three runs in that series and has five career home runs against the Brewers.

But his batting average has dropped 25 points after it hit a season-high .306 on June 27, and the five-game stretch without a hit -- he finished Monday's 3-0 win in an 0-for-18 dip -- is his longest all season.

Still, Gibson has no worries about the two-time All-Star, who is hitting .281 on the season with 15 home runs, 46 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.

"Hitting, it comes and it goes," Gibson said. "The thing about our team, I don't think we rely on one guy. It seems there can always be somebody in our lineup that can do damage.

"That's kind of the way we're constructed."

D-backs' pitchers showing prowess at plate

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/18/11

PHOENIX -- The dinner explains it all.

The D-backs' starting pitchers have a National League-leading four home runs and 19 RBIs, as well as the second-highest batting average in the Senior Circuit.

"It keeps things fun," Daniel Hudson said about a monthly hitting competition between Arizona starters, with dinner on the line.

"It's a friendly competition," he said, before noting that he's never lost.

Each month, the group picks a different category -- hits, sacrifice bunts, on-base percentage -- with the loser buying dinner.

"It keeps things light," Hudson said.

Hudson is hitting .359 with a home run and 12 RBIs this season, anchoring the staff. Not to be forgotten is bullpen teammate Micah Owings, who sports a career .288 average.

"It's been awesome watching him swing it the way he has," Owings said. "It brings back a couple of memories of back when I did it a little bit. My hat's off to him."

Owings credits his offensive success to getting a chance early in his career to swing the bat in the NL, and says that being able to hit is an added plus to any team.

"We've got some starters and guys in the 'pen that can swing it, so it's always nice to give [manager Kirk Gibson] some options," Owings said.

The D-backs' 29 hits and .176 pitchers' average -- entering Monday's action -- both place second in the NL to the Brewers, whose staff has 33 hits with a .193 average.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hudson gets it done with his arm and his bat

By Anthony Fenech / | 7/17/2011

PHOENIX -- You couldn't ignore Daniel Hudson on Sunday.

If he wasn't on the mound, pitching the second complete game of his career, he was at the plate, recording the second multi-hit game of his career. And if he wasn't at the plate, then he was crossing it, after hitting his first home run.

"It definitely is [memorable]," Hudson said. "My first home run, you get a complete game against the Dodgers, we're big rivals and everything like that. It feels great."

No, you couldn't ignore Hudson's performance -- nine innings pitched, one run allowed on five hits, a home run and three RBIs -- in the D-backs' 4-1 victory over the Dodgers at Chase Field.

But his teammates tried.

"I said to the guys to kind of sit down and let it be a little bit," catcher Miguel Montero said.

Hudson received the silent treatment, which eventually gave way to a celebration, inside the dugout after hitting what proved to be a game-winning home run off Ted Lilly.

"I knew they were going to do something like that," Hudson said. "I just said, 'Thanks guys, appreciate it. Thanks for the support.' They came around and gave me high-fives after that."

The solo shot was the first of his career, a breaking ball-turned-laser beam that just found its way over the fence in left field.

"I just hit it hard," Hudson said. "It was top-spinning, so I didn't know if it was going to clear the fence, and I think I heard somebody reached out over the fence and brought it back for me."

And as he continued to stifle the Dodgers from the hill, Hudson wasn't done at the plate, driving in two more runs with two outs the very next inning after manager Kirk Gibson elected to stick with the hot-hitting pitcher instead of opting for a pinch-hitter.

"It's Daniel Hudson," Gibson said matter-of-factly. "He's very competitive, hitting over .300, and he wanted to finish the game. He did well."

Hudson once again jumped on a breaking ball, sending it into left field past the outstretched glove of Juan Uribe, to score Chris Young and Ryan Roberts and give himself more than enough offense to work with for his career-high 10th victory of the season.

He also earned himself a place in franchise history, as it was the second time a pitcher has gone nine innings and driven in three runs in the same game. Brandon Webb did it on May 20, 2006, against the Braves.

"It's a good round number to get to," Hudson said of his 10th win. "Obviously, Ian [Kennedy] got his last night, and I was happy for him. We just try to match each other and push each other to win."

The 24-year-old also became the youngest pitcher in franchise history to toss two complete games in a season, the most since Dan Haren threw three in 2009.

"I take pride in going out there, keeping my pitch count low and working deep into games," Hudson said. "I think that's something I work hard in between starts on -- to have enough stamina to throw a lot of pitches."

Hudson methodically worked through the Dodgers' lineup, allowing one run on five hits -- the run scored on a wild pitch -- while striking out three and walking none.

He didn't surrender a hit through the first three innings, threw 113 pitches, didn't allow more than two baserunners in any inning and saved his most efficient frame for last, retiring the Dodgers on nine pitches in the ninth.

"He's very good at closing out things," Gibson said. "He showed a lot of character and he was impressive today. Well rested and sharp.

"I was kind of watching him through the first innings and noticed he was getting through them very efficiently, and thought this might be a day that he might be able to go all the way, and he did."

Gibson stuck with Hudson in the seventh after Los Angeles intentionally walked two batters and manager Don Mattingly replaced Lilly with right-hander Blake Hawksworth.

"I liked the matchup, honestly," Gibson said. "I know Hawksworth's good, and I know righties are better against him."

Lilly was tagged with his 10th loss after pitching 6 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on four hits. Both intentional walks were his, and he struck out nine.

Roberts opened the scoring in the second inning with a solo home run to left, his 12th of the year.

"I just caught a changeup," Roberts said. "I put a good swing on it, and it went out."

With the series victory, the D-backs keep pace with the Giants in the National League West and sit three and a half games out heading into a four-game set with the Brewers on Monday.

"We want to win every series," Gibson said, "but we certainly feel better now that we won the series.

"We need for us to keep where we're at. It's the only way to get to the Giants."

Hernandez playing his hand well

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/17/11

PHOENIX -- David Hernandez knows how to play his hand.

That much D-backs manager Kirk Gibson knows from watching the right-handed setup man-turned-closer during clubhouse card games.

"He's kind of quiet, but he's devious in the way he likes to beat you," Gibson said. "He's very sly and very good."

And the 26-year-old has been very good in locking down saves at the back end of the bullpen since J.J. Putz went on the shelf with an elbow injury, saving six games in as many opportunities and not allowing a hit -- much less a run -- in the process.

"There's a little more adrenaline closing out games vs. coming in for the eighth," Hernandez said on Saturday night.

Hernandez has eight saves and has come around to the "closer's mentality" so critical to success in the ninth inning.

"I don't know if he did initially," Gibson said about having that mentality. "It's something different, but I'm sure he likes it. Why wouldn't you?"

"At first I took [the role] with optimism," Hernandez said. "I didn't know if I was ready, but I put the work in and took it day by day."

Hernandez's jump from starter to reliever to closer has happened in just a year's time.

"In quick time," Gibson said. "The one thing that worries me is, he was a starter last year, he relieved very little last year, and he's come in here and has the most appearances on our team. He seems healthy, he always says he feels good, so I hope he's one of those durable guys."

Hernandez has a 3.19 ERA in 42 1/3 innings.

Kennedy tinkers with mechanics on the fly

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/17/11

PHOENIX -- Ian Kennedy wasn't feeling good during Saturday night's fifth inning, when he was walking batters left and right. The problem wasn't physical or mental, but mechanical.

"I needed to find something," Kennedy said, "either to fix it or pitch around it somehow."

He went to the windup, he went to the slide-step, just trying to throw the ball down the middle, but it kept sailing away.

"I was getting high on the ball," he said, "and trying to get on top of it any way I could."

Usually, he said, he stays in the stretch with a man on third base, whereas many pitchers go to the windup. And without his control, he first tried a slide-step.

"It helped for a couple of pitches, then I knew I needed to go to the windup," he said.

And it worked, as he retired Andre Ethier on a popup to shortstop with the bases loaded.

"It helped," Kennedy said. "It felt like my hands were a lot quicker."

Kennedy walked three batters that inning -- something manager Kirk Gibson said he'd never seen out of the 26-year-old -- and allowed a hit and a run, but he escaped relatively unscathed.

"I felt like I needed to change some things in order to get control of the ball," Kennedy said. "I don't usually change things during the game."

Drew does not regret missed triple

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/17/11

PHOENIX -- Stephen Drew would do it again.

"That's how I play," Drew said about unsuccessfully trying to stretch a double into a triple on Saturday night. "It was just unfortunate that the ball bounced right to [Andre Ethier]."

Leading off the third inning, Drew laced a pitch to right-center off Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda. When he was halfway between first and second, the ball bounced off the padding and directly to right fielder Ethier.

"I saw him running sideways, so my initial read was that if he's running sideways, I've got a good chance to get to third," Drew said. "I had no clue where the ball was at."

By the time Drew rounded second, Ethier had the ball, and he relayed it to Rafael Furcal, who threw a strike to Juan Uribe at third to beat Drew by a few steps for the first out of the inning.

"I think if you saw [third-base coach] Matty [Williams], he was telling him to hold up," manager Kirk Gibson said. "We hope the guys have better judgment on plays like that, but I'd rather continue to hold reins on the guys than whip them."

Drew has five triples on the season, tied for seventh in the National League.

"Off the bat, it looked like a triple," Drew said. "My initial thought was to keep running, because I thought [Ethier] was still running, and that's a chance I'm going to take.

"If I had to do it again, I would do it again."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Allen put right to test in return to D-backs

By Anthony Fenech / | 07/16/11

PHOENIX -- How's this for your first at-bat back in the big leagues: pinch-hitting with two on, two out and down two in the ninth inning.

"You get a little antsy," said D-backs first baseman Brandon Allen, who was recalled from Triple-A before Friday's series opener against hte Dodgers. "But I felt comfortable."

Pinch-hitting and facing Dodgers reliever Javy Guerra with the D-backs trailing, 6-4, on Friday, Allen took a ball, then a hack, then another ball to put the count in his favor, before fouling a Guerra fastball straight back to the screen.

"I turned around and asked the ump, he said it was a little up and in," Allen said about the 2-1 pitch. "I was just a little anxious. I wouldn't take that pitch back. I'd let it go."

The next pitch, Allen was caught looking at a fastball low in the zone and hopped out of the box in disgust as the D-backs took the series-opening loss.

"I thought it was low," Allen said. "But I guess it's too close to take."

Allen was in the lineup for Saturday's game against right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, hitting seventh and playing first base.

"I'll be ready whenever they call on me," he said. "Lefty, righty, it doesn't matter. If they want me in there, I'll be in there."