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A funny thing happened on the way to the forum...

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Been a frantic couple of days. I was helping the folks at Diamondbacks Bullpen escape from the evil clutches of AZCentral.com: they now have an independent forum, which is actively moderated, and not subject to the same combination of apathy [when it came to deleting steroid advertisements] and annoying Nanny-fication [the final straw was when, ridiculously, the word "a" was deemed obscene, and automatically replaced with @%$# in every post!].

The old board was always the most intelligent forum for discussion of D'backs topics [if you've ever trawled - or even trolled - the MLB.com boards, you'll know what I mean, as some of the residents there apparently believe the loss of Royce Clayton has doomed the D'backs for eternity], and looks like most of the regulars have moved over. So, go check out DiamondbacksBullpen.com. There's also some news tickers on the team from various sources, which are a good way to keep up-to-date on D'backs info. I'm hopefully planning to enhance it with more features as and when.

But never fear: this blog remains the center of my baseball universe, where I will continue to ruminate - at length, no doubt - as the game turns. Or, at least, as the opportunity arises, which may not be too much today, since it's my mother-in-law's birthday, and we're off to dinner with her in about an hour. She'll be particularly happy, since she's getting her sling off. She had shoulder surgery a few weeks back, but is expected to be ready after a rehab assigment at a local casino, and may even have strengthened her slot-pulling arm. ;-)

She would probably be an improvement over Russ Ortiz in the rotation. I don't quite know all the details of today's little fiasco yet, but I know a) he started, and b) we were 9-2 down by the end of the fourth. I eagerly anticipate finding out a) how badly he sucked, and b) what the excuse is this time. I wonder how many sucky starts in the regular season it will take, before Byrnes has had enough, and orders Melvin to relegate him to the bullpen, staring hard at Moorad while he does so.

The bullpen got thinned out a little further, with the news that Randy Choate will be joining Koplove in the very well-paid Tucson relief corps. This leaves Terry Mulholland as the only left-handed reliever we will possess, and it comes down to Daigle, Aquino and Bajenaru for the final slot.

Brad Halsey seemed a little peeved at having been traded. The Banana reports Halsey as saying,"I was shocked. New management obviously felt that somebody else could do the job better... Any time somebody tells you that you aren't good enough, either you're not going to take it and prove them wrong or you're going to crumble, and I don't plan on crumbling anytime soon. Halsey said it was implied to him that he didn't have to focus his attention on trying to make the team, and that he could use spring training to polish a few aspects of his pitching repertoire. "I got a chance to say some things that were on my mind," he said. "They know how I feel about things."

I can somewhat understand his confusion, but it has to be said, if I was intent on trading a guy, I wouldn't tell him to go out there and try new stuff. I'd be telling him, "Yeah, you're in a dogfight for the rotation, go out there and pitch like it was the World Series." That would seem to be a better sales advert to prospective suitors, than someone posting a hefty ERA because he's working on adding a pitch.

And I've just been handed Ortiz's box-score for the day. Hang on, I think I need both hands for this line:
Russ Ortiz: 3.2IP, 8H, 9R, 5ER, 4BB, 1K
That sends his ERA up to 8.86. Now, four unearned runs suggests the defense wasn't helping him. But eight hits and four walks? That's all down to Russ. All the signs suggest that we need to find a way to get rid of him - not so much for this year, as for 2007 and 2008, when we might actually have a chance at the divisional title. But not if he's starting 32 games, we won't.

Conor Jackson's strong spring performance has indeed apparently earned him a promotion in the batting order, Melvin hinting that he'll hit fifth, between Gonzalez and Green. "We wanted to see how he did, see what kind of spring he gets off to and where his confidence is. It's pretty high. Not a whole lot bothers him." That will split up the left handers, and is certainly justified, based on spring performance: Green's batting average is heading on for two hundred points below Jackson's.

Vargas was officially named to the fifth starters' spot, pretty much a foregone conclusion after the departure of Halsey. And he went out and produced a fine performance against the Sox to mark it, allowing two hits and two walks over six innings, while fanning five and only surrendering one run. Mulholland had a perfect seventh, while Lyon gave up a couple of hits in the eighth, but escaped. Choate had a forgettable farewell appearance, facing one batter and allowing a hit, before Bajenaru got the three outs in the ninth.

Gratifying to see us teeing off a bit on Javier Vazquez, who allowed seven hits and two walks in six innings, but did fan four. The key blow was Conor Jackson's two-run single, which he delivered after going 0-2 down in the count. The other run came on a homer by Hudson, but no-one managed more than a single hit, though it was partly the B-squad out there. There was no Shawn Green, Gonzalez, Tracy or Counsell in the lineup - they were replaced by Quentin, Frazier, Easley and Gil, respectively.

And that will do: all the important stuff covered, I think. Tomorrow, hopefully, will be the final hot stove corner piece - the bullpen. I, very consciously, left it to last, in the hopes that the picture would become a little clearer than it was at the start of spring training. It looks like all the pieces bar one are now in place, and word is, the last one (Bajenaru, Aquino or Daigle?) may not be finally decided until after the Yankees games. So, close enough for government work...