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Liquor in the front...

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My favorite anonymous source sent me the above flyer, for an event at the Fort McDowell Casino later this month. Yes, for $100, you can have the opportunity to play poker with the Huge Manatee! Diamondback fans probably are aware that there is undeniable leisure potential in Russ Ortiz and poker. However, most would prefer applying the poker, with liberal force, to the kneecaps of our former starter. Or, possibly even more fun, the insertion of said poker - ideally glowing Sedona-red - into any orifice not filled at that moment with a donut. How's that for a Royal Flush?

Now, charitable endeavor is very laudable and all that. But, even if he put up every penny of the $20,000 guaranteed prize pot, it pales as benevolence, compared to the $7.9m he received from the D-backs in 2006, for 22.2 innings of major-league pitching, so awful, he had to be canned totally. I worked it out: we paid more than $30,000 for every strike from Ortiz last year. So pardon me if I'm unimpressed by less than one good pitch's worth of charity. I'd never play poker with Ortiz, given his shameless swindling of my team. Know how many quality starts we got for our $33 million? Seven. Would you trust someone like that at a card-table?

However, Mrs SnakePit does have a voucher for two nights' stay at the Fort McDowell casino, courtesy of her work. So the idea appeals of going there for that weekend, and staging some kind of protest at the event. Possibly leaping from the crowd to belabor Ortiz with baseball bats, shouting "Russ, what is the frequency?" at him. Or - less feloniously - just sitting there in our new Diamondback shirts, holding a large suitcase on our laps, with the words "$33 million" written on it in blood. Or maybe just waving a box of donuts at Russ and squealing occasionally. What sort of noise does a manatee make, anyway? Breath, Jim...breathe, and take comfort from Nick Piecoro's blog:

If Russ Ortiz does turn his career around, which he, improbably, now seems capable of doing, you can't blame the Diamondbacks. Yeah, Ortiz says he made a mechanical adjustment and says he's lost weight. But don't think for a minute that the Diamondbacks didn't try to alter his mechanics. And don't think they didn't try to get him to drop some pounds. Anyone who read Ortiz's quotes last season knows this is just a case of the light not clicking, the reality (and necessary desperation) not setting in, until he was cut loose twice by two teams in the same season.

Moving on. One significant inning proved enough for the Diamondbacks in yesterday's game vs. the White Sox. The third started with Young and Callaspo going deep, back-to-back, and after groundouts by Hairston and Clark grounded out, Hudson tripled, Quentin doubled, CaGon singled, and Barden doubled. Nice to see us hitting for the cycle in a single inning - and almost managing it with two men out! The four runs which resulted were the sum total of the run-scoring offense, but proved more than adequate, as our pitchers produced another good outing, restricting Chicago to just a pair of runs. So we won 4-2, which runs our franchise spring record against them to 45-18, with a couple of ties.

Edgar Gonzalez allowed one run on two hits and a walk over three innings, his only mistake a slider that the White Sox's Brian Anderson smacked to left-center. "I'm very happy. Every outing I feel much better," EdGon said, picking up his second win of the season. Micah Owings followed him out there, allowed one run in two innings, and the bullpen of Julio, Lyon, Harville and Schultz shut Chicago out the rest of the way. The last-named had the most impressive line, retiring the opposition in order, with K, K, groundout, but by then most of the regulars were out of the game.

Carlos Gonzales was the offensive star, going 3-for-3. Callaspo went 2-for-3 with the home run in the fourth; Chris Young's homer came as he led off the lineup. Conor Jackson was scratched: it's just a case of the stomach flu, so shouldn't keep him out very long. He should probably lay off boiled eggs for a while though... Not quite such a good result today for AZ, with Enrique Gonzalez getting smacked about like Naomi Campbell's personal assistant. But I'll save the gory details of that one for tomorrow.

However, I should mention, before that game the Big Unit threw batting practice [insert sarky comment here by biggerunit1 - something like "And how was that different from most starts last season?"] 52 pitches against various prospects, with only a couple sharply hit out of the infield, according to AP reports. He said afterwards, "I'm pleased with where I'm at right now, as I have been with every step. To not have any real setbacks other than maybe a stiff back here and there, I think that's to be expected, especially with the workload I've been doing this quickly. I'm pretty pleased." Still seems to be on course for a full-on return in the second half of April.

Seems like all this optimism over our chances this year might be infectious. Sports Illustrated now appears to have caught it from Fox Sports, as Jon Heyman picks us as his sleeper team and writes, "I truly believe the Diamondbacks can win the NL pennant for three very real reasons: 1) they have surprisingly solid starting pitching; 2) they have as fine a crop of young major league-ready positional players as anyone; and 3) the National League is eminently winnable." Meanwhile, compares the rosters of the Giants and D-backs, and finds only one spot where the Giants have the edge, at short-stop. Better hurry and take advantage of those Las Vegas odds while they last: I sense they will be sharply reduced, if we live up to these expectations.

Warm, fuzzy piece in the Republic on Counsell's move to Milwaukee. He genuinely seems to harbor no ill-will towards the D-backs...unlike certain others I could mention, despite what they may say in public. Here's Craig's thoughts: "The last day, for me, I was treated like a king. It was unbelievable. I just consider myself a major league baseball player, nothing special. But the fans treated me certainly as something more than that... I wish them well, man. I wish Bob Melvin great. He was a big believer, a good friend. I hope they make the playoffs." Best of luck in Milwaukee, Mr. Counsell.

New poll up, on who'll have the highest BA this year, so that closes the voting on the "who should bat leadoff?" question. In keeping with Bob Melvin's approach to lineup construction, nothing was really decided - except, a decisive 93% of respondents stated it shouldn't be Eric Byrnes. Stephen Drew (32%) was the most popular choice; he's making his case in Spring Training, with five walks in less than 20 plate-appearances, helping him to an .556 on-base percentage - double that of Hudson. Of the other candidates, Hudson and Young only have a single walk each, thus far, and Eric Byrnes has three.