Diamondbacks: D-backs better on paper; real test starts today

2011-04-01T00:00:00Z Diamondbacks: D-backs better on paper; real test starts todayThe Associated Press The Associated Press
April 01, 2011 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - The wind should die down at Chase Field this season after last year's Arizona Diamondbacks smashed the major-league record for strikeouts. Whether this vastly remodeled version can escape the NL West cellar is an open question.

Third baseman Mark Reynolds, who led the majors in strikeouts for three straight years, was shipped off to Baltimore, and the Diamondbacks made no effort to re-sign the No. 2 culprit, first baseman Adam LaRoche. Thus two men responsible for 383 of Arizona's 1,529 strikeouts are gone. They took 57 home runs and 187 RBIs with them, too.

New general manager Kevin Towers has made a lot of changes, especially in the bullpen, and is likely to make many more. Entering his first full season, manager Kirk Gibson is out to change the losing culture.

"Here's my biggest concern - that we stay healthy and we stay committed together," Gibson said.

A sour spring shows there is plenty of work to be done.

"We've lost over 90 games two years in a row, and we've probably had a disappointing spring," Towers said. "The only people that are going to be able to change people's minds are the guys in that clubhouse, those 25 guys. It's going to be up to them to prove the naysayers wrong."

Only shortstop Stephen Drew, right fielder Justin Upton, center fielder Chris Young and catcher Miguel Montero remain from the Arizona team that made its surprising run to the NLCS in 2007, a spirited, young squad that seemed poised for a series of contending seasons. Instead, the team faded at the end of 2008, then plummeted to last place in 2009 and 2010.

Drew has evolved into one of the best shortstops in the National League. When Phoenix hosts its first All-Star Game in July, he might be the best bet to be Arizona's representative.

Upton, 23, is in many ways the key. With a big contract, he's the face of the franchise but has at times failed to handle his role with the maturity it demands. Injuries have been a problem, too. But Upton has had a strong spring and says he's ready to live up to the huge expectations that have followed him since he was drafted.

Young had a big comeback season after an awful 2009, and Montero hopes to avoid the injuries that have slowed him in the recent past.

The strength of this team could be the young arms in the rotation - Ian Kennedy is 26, Daniel Hudson is 24, and Barry Enright turned 25 on Wednesday. Joe Saunders and Armando Galarraga fill out the rotation. All but Saunders are right-handed.

"If everybody pitches to their potential, I think we're pretty good," said Kennedy, who will start the opener today at Colorado. "I mean, it's hard to tell in spring, but I really think when Huddy (Hudson) pitches to his potential, myself, Joe and Barry - he throws a lot of strikes - I'm pretty happy with that rotation. Going into it, I think it's going to be a fun year, at least from a starter's standpoint."

In an attempt to improve what probably was the worst bullpen in the game, Towers brought in David Hernandez and J.J. Putz. Putz, bothered by a sore back in the spring, will be the closer. Aaron Heilman returns to the bullpen after losing out to Galarraga for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Season opener

• Who: D-backs at Rockies

• When: 1:10 p.m. today

• TV: FSAZ

• Radio: 104.9-FM, 1490-AM

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