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Snakes on a plane!

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I've been wanting to use that as a headline for weeks now. :-) And I finally get a chance, with the Diamondbacks departing last night for Opening Day in Denver on Monday, against the Colorado Rockies. Our snakes were on a plane: where's Samuel L. Jackson when you need him?

Anyway, we finished spring with a 3-3 tie against the Yankees. Miguel Batista had a good outing, allowing two hits and two walks over 5.2 innings, fanning five and surrendering only one earned run. Greg Aquino got the last out of the sixth, to celebrate the news that he got the final relief spot, over Casey Daigle. And look! What comes lumbering out of the bullpen to pitch the seventh? It's Russ Ortiz. The shape of things to come, perhaps?

Actually, he managed a perfect seventh, striking out two Yankees. It was another starter, Claudio Vargas, who blew the lead, as last night, in the eighth with two hits, including a home-run, and an error by Gil [his fifth of spring] turning a one-run lead into a one-run deficit. Cruz and Vizcaino got the final three outs.

On the hitting side, it was the youngsters that came through, with RBIs for Tracy, Gil and Barden - the latter pair both hit solo homers, off Chacon and Villone respectively. Orlando Hudson had another three hits, to finish the spring hitting .473, but we managed only eight hits in 35 at-bats - Luis Gonzalez had three of our four walks. Conor Jackson went 0-for-4, and left six men on base.

The 25-man roster was announced last night. Sadly, Russ Ortiz still appears to be on it. :-) As noted, Aquino is in; so is Andy Green, holding off a determined challenge from Jerry Gil; and Koyie Hill stays on the roster for the moment, at the expense of Terry Mulholland. This, however, is widely believed to be a fudge: Hill will likely be waived Sunday, in favour of Mulholland, giving us ten more days to trade him. With all the other teams having set their rosters, it also improves the chances of Hill making it through waivers without being snapped up.

A thought strikes me on Ortiz. I suspect the reason he was pushed down to #4 in the rotation was to ensure he didn't have to pitch in Coors Field. Given the apparently fragile nature of his current skills, Denver is the last place that you want to throw him out for his first start. In contrast, Miller Park was basically neutral, with an average park factor of 99 over the past five years - compare that to Coors' 114. I know where I'd rather pitch. And speaking of Ortiz...

Heroes and Zeroes of Spring

Hitting [min 40 at-bats]
Hudson: 26-for-55, 3 HR, 10 RBI, OPS 1.272
Gil: 20-for-52, 5 HR, 12 RBI, OPS 1.187
Jackson: 21-for-55, 2 HR, 12 RBI, OPS 1.129
Terrero: 10-for-44, 1 HR, 11 RBI, OPS 0.772
Callaspo: 10-for-45, 0 HR, 7 RBI, OPS 0.589
Green: 13-for-61, 1 HR, 8 RBI, OPS 0.566

Hudson's strong performance over the past week - not least the two games vs. the Yankees, where he had three hits in each game - vault him to the top of spring's Heroes. Hope he can carry forward this momentum into the regular season: he wasn't expected to do that much with the bat, so any increased production will be a pleasant surprise. Jerry Gil came closer to the roster than many people reckoned, pushing Andy Green (OPS 1.092) all the way to the last day. And I look forward with enthusiasm to what could be a Rookie of the Year campaign for Conor Jackson: the first of several looming for Arizona. He just pipped DaVanon, who had the same OPS, but sustained it over fewer at-bats.

The number of under-performers with the lumber this spring was pleasantly few. Terrero's dumping on the waiver wire was no surprise, and unlike Hill (1.143 OPS, but only 30 AB's), Luis did nothing to dissuade management. Callaspo, likewise, did little to show he should be anywhere either than Tucson, and Shawn Green's usual "slow" start to the season appears to be positively glacial in pace this year. Let's hope he hasn't got to face any left-handers, say, this side of the All-Star break.

Pitching [Min 9 IP]
Aquino: 9.1 IP, 4 H, 5 BB, 6 K, 0.96 ERA
Daigle: 10 IP, 10 H, 1 BB, 8 K, 2.70 ERA
Grimsley: 11.1 IP, 8 H, 6 BB, 8 K, 3.18 ERA
Lyon: 11 IP, 14 H, 5 BB, 9 K, 7.36 ERA
Ortiz: 22.1 IP, 33 H, 10 BB, 11 K, 8.46 ERA
Halsey: 11 IP, 18 H, 5 BB, 4 K, 9.00 ERA

Aquino got the nod over Daigle for the last bullpen spot, despite the latter's gaudy K:BB ratio of 8:1, much better than Aquino's 6:5. [Jarvis, with only one walk in 15 innings, was better still] Roster factors may well have come into the equation, as well as Daigle's higher hit-rate. Grimsley looks set as well, part of Byrnes' apparent master-plan to skew the bullpen towards people who can throw long relief. Think he's concerned about our starters? [see also Mulholland, Cruz, and as a backup, Jarvis]

At least there's one less of those pesky starters to worry about now, following the departure of Halsey - the only one of the 26 pitchers with more than two innings, whose walks outnumbered their K's. Ortiz just avoided joining him, by fanning two of the three hitters he faced today. Lyon's figures are skewed by one horrendous outing, but are still a little worrisome - though 9 K's in 11 IP isn't too bad.

The Banana has their pre-season preview up: here is a good place to start. Perhaps the most interesting piece is the one on Josh Byrnes, which discusses his position among the "new breed" of GMs. Says D'backs stats guy, Jim Cassandro [shock #1: we have one of them. #2: He was hired by Joe Jr!], of Byrnes: "He's open to and exceedingly creative about sabermetric research. But he never loses sight of the complexities that need to temper research regarding human behavior, particularly those complexities that scouts have observed and detailed for decades."

And today is Opening Day in the majors. In some ways, it seems like a long time since the end of last season; but in others, it's hardly a blink of an eye. Kinda like a good night's sleep, but one populated by a series of very strange dreams. Though perhaps the best parallel would be that of a diver coming up from the depths towards the surface: we're now close enough to see the golden glow of sunlight rippling across the waves. But is the boat still there, with the skipper holding a bucket of ice-cold beer? Or will I surface and find the boat heading off towards the horizon, Open Water-style? Only time will tell...