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AZ 2, Devil Rays 3 - Floundering in Florida

Record: 36-36. Change on last season: 0

Say "Hello!" to that old friend, .500 baseball, again; our bats stay silent and we sink to 2-14 in the past sixteen games, during which time, we've scored a mere 50 runs. This was a mix of bad baseball and bad luck, but being only able to get four hits in seven innings from a pitcher with four career starts in the majors, is simply not getting it done.

We'll get to all that in a minute, because probably more significant than another loss - even one in an over-sized Florida circus-tent - were the multiple roster changes for Arizona. Firstly, Russ Ortiz was, as expected, waived for the purpose of releasing him: it looks like all the optimistic talk of trading for him came to nothing. He'll clear waivers, and maybe someone else will take a flier on him for league minimum. We'll see just how much Ortiz wants to play, or whether he's happy to cash his bi-monthly Diamondbacks' checks.

Scott Hairston's stay with the team proved a fleeting one - he was placed on the 15-day DL, because of his shoulder injury. It's an interesting decision, rather than simply optioning him to Triple-A, which suggests he may come back to the big-league club. Replacing him will be Casey Daigle, who gets his apparently monthly call-up from Tucson (April 12, May 3, and now June 21). However, this now re-opens the question of who is going to be moved, to make way for Edgar Gonzalez when he starts tomorrow. Daigle may well find his ticket getting stamped straight back down, unless they feel Aquino or Medders would benefit from a spot of Sidewinderism.

Finally, Terry "No, really - it's an ear infection" Mulholland was, like Ortiz, placed on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release. I think it's safe to say that the signings of Mulholland (January 12) and Grimsley (December 14) have been, in their own way, the biggest disasters of the short Josh Byrnes era. Both deals were second-guessed from the moment they took place, as making little sense on a team supposedly building for the future, and they've turned out to be as bad as feared. Mulholland was paid $750,000 to pitch just three innings; Grimsley had, at least, to work a little harder for his $825,000 (27.2 innings), but has forever linked the Diamondbacks to performance-enhancing drugs.

The money is, perhaps, less important than the roster spots which the pair of pitching disasters took away. Hindsight is 20/20, naturally: but without them, maybe Dan Uggla, now hitting .313 with 13 HR and 43 RBI - figures which would lead Arizona in all three categories - might still be a Diamondback, rather than being handed as a free gift to the Marlins in the Rule 5 Draft. Add Kevin Jarvis, and the trio of pitchers with a combined age of 118 have this line:
42 IP, 55 H, 14 BB, 17 K, 7 HR, 33 ER, 7.07 ERA
I trust lessons have been learned from the fiasco; like, oh, I dunno - "Don't hire old and busted pitchers", maybe? If so, then some good can stil come from this.

There was not much "good" to be found for Arizona at Tropicana Field this afternoon. As feared, Shields flummoxed the Diamondbacks with some effective wildness - he walked three batter and hit two more - and a changeup which most of the lineup failed to grasp or understand. Slots 1-6, again, were the culprits, managing a combined 1-for-21 with a walk. Counsell had a particularly miserable day, going 0-for-3, and when he did reach first base - being hit by a pitch to start the game - he was picked off.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez was made to look an idiot in left field again; this time, it seemed like he lost the ball in the ceiling of the dome, and it plopped behind him for a double. A ground-ball to third ricocheted off the bag for an infield single, and then Brandon Webb committed a balk to bring the Devil Rays' their first run. Webb was also uncharacteristically wild, walking a season-high four batters, in addition to the eight hits given up over six innings, as he lost his third straight decision. Vizcaino, Choate and Lyon followed, striking out four in two innings combined.

Even Bob Melvin getting ejected for the first time this year, couldn't inject any sense of urgency or life into Arizona. He initially bickered with home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez over the balk call against Webb, then came out again to whinge about balls and strikes, this time saying something which led to his departure. He was replaced by Jay Bell, but the feeble display from our offense continued unabated. DaVanon had two hits and a walk, and was about the only one who seemed to have any real clue at the plate all night; Hudson, batting behind DaVanon, reached safely his first two times up as well.

The defeat sends Arizona to the bottom of the NL West, now 2.5 games behind the Padres. I feel strangely schizophrenic about this team at the moment. Part of me wants them to bomb totally until the trade deadline, so there is no risk of management doing anything monumentally stupid like dealing away prospects for a 2006 pennant run. But there's part of me which just can't bring myself to root in that spirit for the opposition. However, this does allow me to deal with the current disastrous run in a psychologically balanced way, without putting my foot through TV sets or household pets.

A sparse but vocal crowd here this afternoon - much like the one in Tropicana Field. VIII, Ben, icecoldmo and William K were the men in question, with the last-named easily the most frequent poster. Though I have to confess, even my enthusiasm for the game was largely muted. I suspect this was perhaps tied in with having got a mere four hours of sleep last night: I was woken at 4:30 am by an ornament falling off the wall and smashing, and that was it for me as far as shuteye was concerned.

Instead, I ended up watching Portugal vs. Mexico in the World Cup, and Belle Starr, a 1941 film about the aftermath of the Civil War...but Morpheus still did not come. Sadly, I remember when four hours of sleep was enough: I am clearly too for that these days. We've got another early start tomorrow, with an afternoon game on getaway day, which means a 9:15 am first pitch here. I think I'll combine that with the crucial USA/Ghana footie game, and make a morning of sport: quick preview to follow, before I go get some shuteye.

[Morning update]

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Today: No gain, but plenty of pain