Let the Games Commence...

Micah Owings will be the fifth starter in the Diamondbacks rotation, to start the year off. The rookie got the nod over long-term spot starter Dustin Nippert, with manager Bob Melvin saying:

We saw some things in him that for a young guy that you don't see - a tremendous competitor, obviously great stuff, a great track record. We think he's ready to handle it. If we didn't think he was ready to handle it, obviously, he wouldn't be here right now. Not only is he a competitor, he does all the little things. He holds runners. He can field his position. He can hit. But most importantly, he can pitch.

That doesn't mean he'll actually be on the Opening Day roster. Melvin hinted that Owings may only be added in time for his start in Washington on Friday - until then, we'll use the spot for an additional reliever or position player. Nippert might be the recipient of that spot, in case we need someone to go long relief during the first four games. Robby Hammock and Brian Barden got the final two spots on the position players roster, but I haven't heard yet for sure who wins the final permanent bullpen slot. The Diamondbacks active roster on the mlb.com site still contains 29 players, though that includes the three on the DL and Yusmeiro Petit, so that would suggest J.D.Durbin will be the man.

The team finished the pre-season with a 20-12 record, beating the Padres with convincing offensive performances, by margins of 14-8 yesterday, and 12-8 today. To start on Saturday's game, Edgar Gonzalez had his wobbliest outing of spring, with eight hits and five earned runs in his four innings of work - but he still improved his record to 5-0, because the Diamondbacks gave him ten runs of support while on the mound. Lyon pitched a scoreless fifth, but Cruz managed the following interesting line:
Cruz: 1 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 3 R, 0 ER
Medders, Glant and Woody pitched the remaining innings.

Scott Hairston got himself ejected in the first inning, arguing over balls and strikes: he's going to have to learn to bite his lip a bit better in the major leagues. His replacement, Dee Brown, had three hits and scored three times though, and Brian Barden went 3-for-3 with three RBIs. Jeff Salazar, in his first game with the team since coming from Colorado, also cleared the bases with a double and drove in four runs all told, while Mark Reynolds had two hits and two RBI.

Today's game was won by Justin Upton in the bottom of the ninth inning with a walk-off grand-slam, which is really one hell of a way to end Spring Training, both for him and the team. That was the fourth homer of the day for the Diamondbacks, following ones by Scott Hairston - his eighth, finishing him tied with Aramis Ramirez for the pre-season lead - Conor Jackson and Jeff Salazar. So much for our lack of power. ;-) Drew had three hits; Young also reached safely three times, on a hit and two walks.

Yusmeiro Petit looked very confident against a full-strength Padres lineup: five innings, three hits, seven strikeouts. Despite a couple of deep, hard-hit balls, the only blemish was a solo homer to Mike Giles - which to be honest, Carlos Quentin would probably have grabbed at the fence. He'll be down in Tucson, but based on this performance, it seems we may have got a good deal. Durbin also looked good: he did allow three hits, but he had good velocity and movement, so we'll see how he does out of the bullpen. Valverde was yanked in the middle of an inning, which was kinda weird; Pena came in for two pitches. Bill Murphy faced seven hitters and retired just one, allowing five runs and setting the stage for Upton's grand-salami.

Sitting here, watching the first edition of The Eric Byrnes Show on Fox Sports AZ. Nicely laid-back as you might expect: he comes over pretty natural, and with a tongue-in-cheek approach that's endearing. [They just showed Superfan Susan, who was lurking behind the outfield fence in Tucson Electric Park: I wonder if she has a day job...?] Byrnes was just talking to Josh Ford about the 40 hardboiled egg challenge he took earlier in Spring: the footage of Ford's face as he neared the end of the challenge was priceless. Looks like a fun show, though I'm not sure a) how he'll keep it up for an entire year, and b) what'll happen if Byrnes gets traded mid-season, because Hairston has 20 homers before the All-Star break...

Less convinced by some of the other promotional stuff the franchise are doing. There's the Are You Ready? viewing parties for the first week of the season. This maybe ties together somewhat with my lament earlier in the week, about the lack of D-backs bars and venues. I can see the point of trying to drum up enthusiasm for Opening Day, but they're not helped by the schedule, which sends the Diamondbacks East, and means the parties are starting at times between noon and 5:30pm, which pretty much rules the events out for those of us with day jobs.

The only one I might get to, is Tuesday's at the Upper Deck Sports Grill in Scottsdale, but I'm not excited by this: "The D-backs' new in-game hosts, Vanessa and Mike, will appear along with the team's new Rally-backs entertainment crew to pass out new Sedona Red hats and t-shirts." Oh, joy: just what I want when I go to Chase Field. "In-game hosts" and an "entertainment crew". The players on the field should provide all the entertainment I want to see this year.

Similarly, the new Diamond Club in right-field, which they promoted heavily during the broadcast today. It has pool tables! A dancefloor! A DJ! It's exclusive! Er... I could be wrong, but I feel this concept is hardly pioneering. If I wanted that kind of stuff - and heaven knows, I don't - I'd not be looking for it at Chase Field. I appreciate I'm perhaps not the target audience for this venue any more, but I really think it's doomed to failure. Frankly, I hope it's doomed to failure: call me a fuddy-duddy traditionalist, but I was under the impression it was a baseball park, not Old Town Snottsdale.

On the other hand, the annual Team Marketing Report, published yesterday, showed that the average ticket for a Diamondbacks game was the lowest in the majors - $13.79, down 29.9% on last year. Of course, a large number of those seats will likely go unoccupied, but it does counter the claim that the team are not a "family-friendly" organization. I haven't got all the figures for this year, but here's how that compares to the average ticket prices for the other major franchises in the most recently-available surveys. Pretty well, it seems:

  • Suns: $48.99 [2004-05 season]
  • Cardinals: $44.98 [2005]
  • Coyotes: $25.41 [2006-07]
  • Diamondbacks: $13.79 [2007]

And that's the end of the pre-season. All told, those 20 wins mean the Diamondbacks have more than any other National League team. The offense has been excellent, and one hopes this will carry forward into the regular season: the blossoming of Scott Hairston is perhaps the best story, though the injury to Carlos Quentin is worrying. The pitching was a mixed bag: Webb threw well, and Johnson's return has been smooth thus far, but Hernandez and Davis have been far from lights-out. The bullpen has sorted itself, with few surprises: Julio was traded as expected, and Pena will be the backup closer.

But now, the team is off to Colorado, and there's nothing to be done except start playing the games for real. It seems a lot less than six months since we ended last year! Still, here we are, and the first pitch can't come soon enough. Roll on Monday!

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