Diamondbacks 9, Rangers 8: Texas Get Russell-ed By Branyan

Not a bad day's work for Russell Branyan. After the Diamondbacks had fallen into a 7-0 hole - for reasons we'll get into shortly - he capped off the comeback with a seventh-inning grand-slam that gave Arizona the lead. Then, after Mike Hampton had blown the save in the eighth inning, Branyan gave Arizona the lead again, with an RBI ninth-inning single. He leads meaningful players on the team  in HR (4), RBI (16), total bases (36) and OPS (1.301) this spring: with two days until his opt-out clause, has he now locked down a roster spot?

I don't know if it's Kirk Gibson's doing, but you can't fault this team's comeback spirit. Having won after trailing by ten runs on Saturday, the Diamondbacks came back from seven runs behind this afternoon - though you could certainly make the argument that they should never have been there to begin with, since six of the seven runs were unearned. The damage was mostly triggered by Daniel Hudson throwing away a sacrifice bunt, though our eyes on the ground (and thanks to kishi for his on-the-spot reports) says that Xavier Nady "didn’t even move to try to salvage it." The Rangers scored five of their seven runs in the third with two outs, after it should have been over.

While Hudson's ERA actually improved as the result of this outing, as only one run was earned in his 2.2 innings of work, this was far from his best performance. He faced 19 batters and retired only eight of them, with the other eleven reaching base on the error, two walks and eight hits. He'll get one more start, next Monday, and then it'll be for real as he takes the mound in Colorado, for the second game of the season. After he was lifted with two outs in the third, credit the bullpen for a decent effort. One run over 6.1 innings, albeit with a hefty WHIP, thanks to six hits and four walks.

Rafael Rodriguez got it going, with two shutout innings on three hits and a walk, fanning two. Joe Paterson got in some useful practice for his likely role, coming in to face left-handed batter Josh Hamlton - and striking him out on what looked on Gameday like four straight sliders. If you can do that to the reigning American League Most Valuable Player, you're probably looking at a roster spot. Juan Gutierrez pitched a scoreless seventh - while his ERA is still at 7.27, that's now six consecutive scoreless outings for him. Over those six innings, he has allowed three hits, no walks and struck out five, so seems to be ready for action.

Mike Hampton had no real problem in the seventh, pitching around a two-out double. However, the attempt to stretch him out with a second inning [are they aiming to use him in long relief, or was this simply a side effect of Hudson's truncated outing?] proved less successful. He was replaced by Esmerling Vasquez with men on the corners and one out, and Vasquez couldn't escape the jam, allowing an RBI single to tie the game, before a double-play. Finally, after we'd re-taken the lead, Vasquez came in to preserve his own win, though not without incident: two men were on, and it took a sprawling dive by A.J. Pollock to get the third out and seal victory for Arizona.

The Diamondbacjs' recovery was fueled by a pair of four-run innings. In the sixth, while still facing Rangers' starter Matt Harrison, the big blow was Chris Young's bases-clearing double, which broke the shutout up in no uncertain manner. Young then scored himself, on an RBI single from Xavier Nady. That was just a warm-up for the seventh inning, however. A single, a failed fielder's choice and a walk brought Branyan up as the go-ahead run, and he came through, depositing a 0-1 slider over the fence in left-center. That came off Arthur Rhodes, a man not exactly lacking in experience, having made his major-league debut in 1991.

All told, we were probably a bit lucky to take this one as Texas out-hit (14-10),, out-walked (6-5) and under-errored (2-3) Arizona - they even had more hits with runners in scoring position (6-4). As well as Branyan's two-hit and a walk, five-RBI day, Willie Bloomquist and Xavier Nady each had a couple of knocks, and Justin Upton drew a pair of walks. Nady might be coming around a little, having gone 5-for-16 since last Thursday, though his spring K:BB ratio is still a disturbing 9:0, and his overall OPS a week .561 - his last extra-base hit was March 6.

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