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The Final Countdown

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Arizona completed their spring training with a 9-4 victory over the Monterrey Sultanes last night at Chase. The visitors took the lead in the top of the first, but after Arizona scored three times in the second, they largely rolled from there on. These stats don't count overall, but Upton and Young each had two hits, including a homer; Reynolds added a three-run shot, a monster bomb which cannoned off the facade of the second deck in left.; Hudson two hits and a walk; and Chris Snyder two walks. The roof at Chase was closed during the seventh inning, in observance of "Earth Hour, but on a worrying note, Jackson was sent home after batting practice, with the dreaded 'flu-like symptoms'.

Perhaps the most encouraging thing, was Micah Owings pitching five innings without allowing a walk and throwing 52 strikes in 71 pitches. He did allow nine hits and three earned runs, but it still looks like his best performance of the pre-season. "Now the real stuff is about to begin. I'm going to key in on this and take it as a positive going forward," he said afterwards. i certainly hope so: with the anticipated loss of Davis, Owings would be our #4 starter, rather than the #5, while we wait for DD and Johnson to return. His Cactus League outings have not been what we wanted to see.

It has certainly been a better month for our hitters than our pitchers. Obviously, it's hard to compare stats with the Grapefruit League, which is generally less hitter-friendly, but we led all National League franchises with a .297 batting average this spring, and had an overall line of .297/.372/.476. On the other hand, our team ERA ended up at 6.15, ahead of only the Giants and Astros, and allowed more homers than anyone else. One bright point there, however, is that we also struck-out more opposing hitters than anyone, save the Mets.

Think it turned out to be less predictable a month than we expected. Going in to spring training, about the only questions were whether Tracy and Johnson would be ready for Opening Day. But, while the Opening Day lineup looks to be exactly as anticipated, we end up with four men on the Opening Day roster whom I didn't expect to be there: Robby Hammock, Brandon Medders, Yusmeiro Petit and Alex Romero. Let's take a look at each of them, and see how they got there.

Robby Hammock Though it was known that Miguel Montero had broken his right index finger playing winter ball in Venezuela, as late as the end of February, Melvin was saying "I couldn’t say I would rule out ‘Miggy’ right now." However, the healing was much slower than anticipated, and he will now go in to extended spring training before heading to Tucson on rehab. The current estimate is he "might rejoin the D-backs before May 1." As a result, Hammock, who turns 31 six weeks, will start his fifth season in the majors, though he has yet to reach 200 at-bats in any of them - and probably won't get there in 2008. Melvin said Hammock will play once a week, to give Snyder a day off, but having hit .208/.283/.292 in spring, isn't likely to see much more action.

Brandon Medders Out of options and dispatched to Triple-A in the middle of last season, Medders looked likely to be waived or traded before Opening Day. However, the Vegas hotel-like implosion of Dustin Nippert opened the door, and Medders had a quietly effective Cactus campaign, allowing 13 hits in 12 innings, with four walks and nine strikeouts. Here's hoping he returns to the form shown in 2006, when he had a 3.64 ERA in 71.2 innings - he did okay after returning from Tucson late last season, allowing two runs in seven innings, on seven hits. Let's have no more first-pitch grand-slams, please.

Yusmeiro Petit He gets his chance because of the promotion of Edgar Gonzalez to the rotation, as replacement for Johnson and Davis - the Petit Unit will take over EdGon's role as long relief, and may end up with a spot-start or two, it there's a need for any additional arm in the rotation. He had an excellent spring, with a sub-three ERA in 12.1 innings, and an outstanding K:BB ratio of 17:3. Still on 23, he will be continuing to develop, and produced a very credible ERA+ of 103 last season, making ten starts. To quote one scout, "He doesn't have a power arm but has a plan and the ability to execute." He has to be good. We sponsor his page. :-)

Alex Romero Battling for the left-handed bench spot were Romero and Trot Nixon - the latter an 11-year veteran, the former without a major-league at-bat to his name. But it's the rookie who won out, after hitting .345 in spring, and even the fact he can't play first-base couldn't stop him. Don't expect power from Romero; in 202 career games at Triple-A, he has just five homers, but good contact skills, with a K:BB ratio of 75:52 over that time. He's still only 24, so as a waiver-wire pickup, claimed by us in January 2007, he's proving quite acceptable. Loved his reaction on hearing the news he was on the roster: "I have to go buy a phone card right now."

Time for the final recap of Heroes and Villains from Spring Training. As always, the sample size here makes this almost as meaningless as the games themselves - that said, isn't it better to have a good pre-season than a bad one? Our hitters were generally very productive, with six of our starting eight batting .300 or better [Stephen Drew got there right at the end!]. For some reason, those named "Chris" appeared to do particularly well...

  • Chris Snyder: .395/.490/.884, 5 HR
  • Chris Burke: .371/.437/.710
  • Chris Young: .333/.429/.636
  • -------------------------------------
  • Eric Byrnes: .246/.306/.404
  • Trot Nixon: .214/.297/.411
  • Robby Hammock: .208/.283/.292
  • Jailen Peguero: 11 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 13 K
  • Yusmeiro Petit: 12.1 IP, 13 H, 4 ER, 17 K
  • Chad Qualls: 9 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 5 K
  • -----------------------------------
  • Micah Owings: 15.2 IP, 22 H, 17 ER, 12 K
  • Brandon Lyon: 8.2 IP, 19 H, 13 ER, 3 K
  • Dustin Nippert: 10 IP, 24 H, 16 ER, 8 K

With that, we end the dress-rehearsals. There's now less than 24 hours to go before the curtain goes up on our first pitch of the 2008 major-league season. I can almost taste it now, though the weather forecast for Cincinnati is questionable, with a 40% chance of rain tomorrow. I really hope they get the game in, not least because I have taken the day off work for the occasion. [Actually, I'd maxed out the hours in my vacation bank, and if I didn't take time out, would have stopped accruing them. Opening Day seemed like as good a time as any to do it!]

I hope you're all enjoying SnakePit v2.0. I want to thank Trei and his team for making it such a smooth changeover, and for answering all our questions and my bug reports - whether they were for actual bugs or not! There are some really kick-ass features here, such as the new Gameday Threads which automatically refresh and alert you of new posts. I'm in awe of the work that's gone into this. It is still a project in progress, but it promises to be quite phenomenal.

Couple of things to point out; the 'rec' button you see can be used to recommend good posts - if enough people do so for, say, a FanPost, it will eventually be boosted to a special section. If you read something you like, feel free to use it, as a virtual round of applause for the creator. If you find a quick link, video, etc. of interest and want to post that here, without writing up a full story, you can now do that using the FanShots area - Azreous has already done a couple of them.

Today's talking point. Over at Bleed Cubbie Blue, Al has published his 2008 predictions, picking us to finish fourth in the division. Do you think he's still bitter about the whuppin' we inflicted on the Cubs in the playoffs? ;-) But the real question is: what do you think the order of finish will be in the 2008 NL West.

I'll see you all tomorrow morning, for the first game of the year. The winter is over; the spring has gone; it's time for the boys of summer to take over once again. How sweet a thought that is. I think I'll watch The Natural this afternoon.

Play ball!