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Sharply differing outcomes enjoyed by the two main contenders for the last spot in the rotation yesterday, who both got starts as we played a pair of split-squad games. Claudio Vargas opened against the Giants, and pitched four shutout innings, allowing three hits, no walks and striking out two. Melvin was impressed: "By far his best outing... He was very economical with his pitches, his velocity was up, had a better breaking ball today, all the way around, and the results showed."

But Brad Halsey didn't get past two frames, giving up five hits, two walks and five runs, albeit only one of which was earned - thank you, Stephen Drew. However, Steve Gilbert warns, "It's hard to judge Halsey at this point strictly by the numbers, as he's also trying to incorporate his changeup more and throw a sinker down and away to right-handers."

On the other hand, it could be said then when you're competing for a job is not the best time to be fiddling with your pitches. So, caveats be damned, let's ignore Brad's attempts to distract us ("Look! Snow on the mountains!"), and take a peek at those numbers, shall we? I'll also toss Dustin Nippert in there as a dark horse candidate.

         IP  H  R ER HR HBP BB K  ERA
Vargas  7.0  8  3  3  0   2  2 3 3.86
Halsey  6.0 11 10  6  2   0  3 4 9.00
Nippert 4.0  5  3  3  0   1  3 5 6.75  

Vargas definitely has the better stats so far, virtually across the board. If this continues to pan out, I'm not sure where Halsey would end up. Terry Mulholland does seem to have the long relief role locked up in the bullpen, and is also a lefty, so Halsey has no advantage there, and I can't see him being used as spot relief. I'm with Stephen: it would seem likely that Tucson beckons, and Brad does have an option year left.

Behind Vargas, we beat the Giants 7-4, which is always a pleasure, even if there was no sign of Bonds - or indeed, many regulars - in their lineup. Jeff Davanon continued his patience at the plate, going 0-for-0 with three walks in the leadoff spot, turning two of them into runs. Tracy and Clark both went 2-for-3, with two and three RBIs respectively, but we were restricted to single figures in hits for the first time this spring.

After Claudio departed, Valverde pitched a scoreless fifth, despite two hits. Grimsley got through the sixth, but couldn't escape the seventh, being replaced by Mock with two outs. Former closer Brian Bruney was the main victim, allowing five hits and two walks in 1.2 innings, though he did strike out three. [Medders played catch yesterday, without pain, so is looking to throw a bullpen session on Sunday, which is good news]

We lost the night-cap 10-7. Kevin Jarvis allowed one hit - albeit a homer - over three innings, while Gonzalez and Bajenaru pitched scoreless frames. Jackson went 2-for-2, Estrada also had two hits, and Carlos Quentin banged a three-run home-run, his first of the spring. But we left a lot of men on base, Chris Carter being the main culprit: in his four at-bats, seven men were left stranded.

As noted, the thinning of the herd continued, with Edgar Gonzalez, Tony Pena, Mike Schultz, Doug Slaten, Chris Young and Bill Murphy all being sent to Minor League camp. We're uncertain about whether the first-named has an option left or not. One school of thought regards EGon's 2005 appearance as an "emergency call-up" that might not have used an option.

America got whipped by Korea yesterday, 7-3. Not even the umpires could save them this time, as Dontrelle Willis again flopped on the world stage: he's allowed eight runs in just 5 1/3 innings of work. The US is now probably in the position, once more, of having to win its final game to move on, and hope other results go their way. Though they have beaten Mexico once already, it was only 2-0, so they should pose a somewhat tougher opponent than South Africa.

Interestingly, the semi-finals will match the top two teams in each pool, rather than cross-pollinating. I believe the aim is to have a good geographical mix in the final - rather than ensuring it's the two best teams who meet there. I can somewhat see the point: a South Korea-Japan, or DR-Venezuela final would be of limited interest outside the specific regions. But it seems a bit contrived, and could mean, say, USA and Mexico end up playing each other three times. Though given the fervour the first encounter created, that might not be such a bad thing.

And, hooray! I was delighted to discover the rebirth of Stef's Random Fandom. After four months of hibernation, it has quietly re-awakened, swelling the ranks of D'back blogness back to the dizzy heights of four. Mind you, after a flurry of activity, there's been nothing since last Wednesday, so the initial enthusiasm has clearly worn off. :-)