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Cause for concern?

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After another questionable performance by a starter today - Doug Davis getting slapped around - you might be forgiven for beginning to worry about our rotation. We're now less than two weeks from the first game, and we should be seeing our starting pitchers beginning to stretch out and get into good form, ready for the season. But in most cases, that shows little signs of happening, and it seems like it's going to take a sudden burst over the last couple of outings to achieve that level of comfort. Here's a report on the anticipated members of the regular roster, and their Cactus League performances so far.

Brandon Webb: 5 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 2 SO, 3.60 ERA
Our ace was held out of one outing against a divisional rival, pitching a B-game instead. But he then missed his next scheduled outing with a stiff neck, though it's anticipated he will be able to make his next start on Thursday. My concern is, Webb probably only has one more outing left after that before Opening Day. Will that be enough to get the Cy Young winner to the stage where he will be able to pitch into the eighth inning, as he did on average last season? Even including the B-game, our ace could be barely at twenty innings of work.

Randy Johnson: 0 IP
Johnson is, obviously, something of a special case, and nobody seriously anticipated he'd be ready for Opening Day. He pitched another batting practice session today, and according to Melvin, there's a good chance RJ's next outing will be in "some kind of game situation," over the weekend. He won't be rushed, and the second half of April remains the best guess at his return, though we'll know a good bit more when he starts facing genuine opposing hitters. Until then, we still have a 6'10" questionmark.

Doug Davis: 8 IP, 15 H, 10 ER, 5 BB, 5 SO, 11.25 ERA
While these figures, as for Webb, do exclude a B-game outing, that's probably for the best in Davis's case - since, there, he allowed ten hits and four walks, while retiring just three opposing hitters in his semi-secret outing. It's the free passes, four today alone, that perhaps concern me most; it was a good part of his problem last season, and something we need him to cut back on this year. Melvin reckons Davis got squeezed by the umpire today, which seems more an excuse than anything. That could easily happen in the regular season too, and you just have to deal; today's outing was pretty bad, however you spin it.

Livan Hernandez: 10.1 IP, 24 H, 15 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO, 13.06 ERA
Yeah, but Hernandez 2.0 always has a bad pre-season: he says so himself. Except the figures don't bear that out: over the past three spring training seasons, he has pitched 72 innings, and posted an ERA of just 2.12. The Aprils which have followed have been up and down, admittedly - but still, claiming these merciless beatings are 'business as usual' is just wrong. His next outing may be in a B game. My bet with RoxGirl, pitting Livan against Rodrigo Lopez, is looking a bit shaky right now. [Though Lopez isn't exactly on fire: 12 IP, 19 H, 12 ER, 9.00 ERA]

Edgar Gonzalez: 8 IP, 13 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 6.75 ERA
You have to love the BB/K ratio; a few too many hits being given up perhaps, but the ERA is largely the victim of one bad frame where he got tagged for four runs. And that was perhaps partly caused by him having to bat, run the bases, then bat again in the previous half-inning. Otherwise, EdGon has looked pretty good, and looks all but certain to start the season in the rotation.

That's a total of just 31.1 IP in "competitive" games, between our five starting pitchers. Now, it is true to say that the figures above do not represent the full extent of their work. However, the results in the non-competitive outings have been variable, as noted above, and we just seem to be pitching a lot less than our rivals: we haven't had anyone go past four innings thus far, as far as I can remember. As a result, the Rockies currently have six pitchers with 11 innings plus under the belt, which is more than any Diamondbacks arm.

I'm wondering if it's a deliberate tactic by Josh Byrnes: keep the load on our 'innings eaters' light during March, to ensure that their arms remain fresh into September - and, hopefully, October. If so, it makes sense, and allows those regulars who have their spots locked up to work on some things, perhaps try out a few new weapons. These are veterans who probably don't need to fine-tune fastballs, and Hernandez 2.0 is supposed to be developing a sinker, while I believe Davis threw a lot of breaking balls today. If so, then the results really are of no real import.

Overall, our staff ERA this spring is 5.60; that seems high, but is behind only the Dodgers in the NL West teams, who play in the Grapefruit League, a less-offensive enviroment generally. [As proof of that, the best NL Cactus League staff are the Cubs at 5.41. That would only be good enough for eighth best of the ten NL Grapefruit League teams] The Padres are at 5.75, Rockies 5.82, and Giants 6.14 - you could look at the stats for each and find cause for concern. The Padres have seen Wells post a 15.28 ERA and announce he has type II diabetes; Cook is about the only Rockies starter to look solid; while Lowry, Cain and Lincecum are all over 6.00 ERA for the Giants.

Thus, there's no real need to panic yet. As I've said a million times before, few things are as meaningless as spring training statistics. [Except perhaps, the episode of 24 we watched over the weekend, which was brought to you by...er, Victoria's Secret. I'm still trying to work out the logic of advertising frilly, lacy undergarments on what's possibly the most macho program on TV.] But just as I'm heartened by the strong offensive numbers, I don't blame anyone for feeling nervous after every short and/or ineffective outing by our pitchers. Spring Training doesn't last forever, after all...

Quentin is expected to miss at least another week as a result of his sore shoulder. He had an MRI on it Monday, and the results appear to indicate the strained shoulder caused by a wild swing in Friday's game needs a bit more rest. He should still be ready for Opening Day, but if he's not quite there, expect Byrnes to shift to right, with Hairston manning left. Could be a bit of an adventure out there.

Interesting piece reporting D'backs ticket sales up in just about every area. Season ticket renewals at 87%, compared to an average of 81%; single-ticket sales up 40%; group sales up 30%. Seems the change of colors and the loss of Gonzo have not had the negative impact on support that some would have claimed. Wait till we actually start winning...

Quick plug for the Ducksnorts Annual, which is now available. Obviously, it's aimed at San Diego Padres fans, but rule #1 is, "Know your enemy." Unless you're Jack Bauer, of course, in which case it's "Kill your enemy." :-) Finally, a quick reminder that I believe tomorrow's game is on Fox Sports AZ, so that should give a lot more people the chance to watch it. I'll be working, but will be Tivo-ing for later consumption.