And We’re Off: Three Early Impressions of the Arizona Diamondbacks

 

One of the fringe benefits of being the Arizona Diamondbacks is that they don’t have to go very far to get home after Spring Training ends. All it takes to get from Salt River Fields to Chase Field is a quick trip down a couple of local highways. It only takes about 20 minutes, but it might as well be a world apart, because in this little trip a group of players transitions from the loose atmosphere of spring training to the hard grind of a professional baseball season.

This year, the Diamondbacks got to go from the Salt River complex into a three-game series with divisional rival San Francisco. After three days and three victories, Arizona already has a two and a half game lead (the Giants beat the Colorado Rockies in Denver on Monday), and we have already gotten our first impressions of them as the season has gotten underway.

Yes, the season is only three days old, and if we were looking at a football season, the Diamondbacks wouldn’t even be through the first half of the first game of the season. We can still draw some conclusions though, and here are three of them that have become apparent after the season’s Opening Weekend:

So, That Bullpen Is Pretty Good, Eh?

If there was a single key to success that just about any championship contender could ask for from Santa Claus for Christmas, it would be to have an excellent bullpen, capable of holding leads and converting save opportunities. That may be a tall order for the big man in the red suit, but for this incarnation of the Arizona Diamondbacks, that has been working out pretty well so far.

So far this season, the bullpen has worked 10 2/3rds innings, and they have been excellent in those frames. Including the six innings of quality work they got from the pen on Sunday. They only gave up one hit, and Wade Miley did the bulk of that work, going four innings while surrendering two free passes and allowing the D’Backs to get back in the game. Even Bryan Shaw got into the act in that one, recording the save as both David Hernandez and JJ Putz were given the day off after pitching for two consecutive days.

Overall, the bullpen has only allowed four hits and has struck out nine batters over that stretch. The only run they’ve allowed was by Putz on Opening Day, and even then he still got the save.

When push comes to shove, the depth of this entire pitching staff is perhaps second to none in Major League Baseball, and the bullpen has to be viewed as one of this team’s great strengths. If they can continue to get good production from the guys in the various roles down there, then manager Kirk Gibson is going to have no hesitancy to pull one of his starters if the need arises.

Chris Young Is Seeing the Ball Really Well

With the possible exception of Lyle Overbay, who seemed to crush everything that came near the plate on Sunday, perhaps no other Diamondbacks hitter has looked as poised and effective at the dish as Mr. Young.

Coming off a season where he once again revealed his potential as one of the better outfielders in the game, Young has been off to a very solid start. He homered in his first at-bat of the year on Friday afternoon off of Tim Lincecum, and he socked two doubles in Saturday’s tilt, including the one that ended up being the game winner. Overall, he is 4-for-11 in the three games, and he seems to have his eye already locked in on having another banner year.

What’s perhaps most impressive for him has been his patience. He has been waiting for his pitch to hit most of the time when he steps up, and he’s been working counts well when he falls behind. This helps explain not only his batting average, but setting pitchers up to throw him something to hit has also done wonders for his OPS, which stands at a very impressive 1.235 right now.

If Young can find a niche in the lineup, and continue to drive the ball with gap power in a division that encourages that type of hitter, then the Diamondbacks may just end up with an incredibly dangerous lineup, especially when you add guys like Justin Upton and Paul Goldschmidt to that mix.

Josh Collmenter Has a Ways to Go Before He Locks Down His Spot

Sunday had plenty of positives for the Diamondbacks. Aside from the work done by their long reliever and the rest of their bullpen, the offense never gave up chipping away at the Giants, and they finally broke the dam en route to scoring seven unanswered runs and grabbing the victory. What wasn’t a positive, however, was the start made by Josh Collmenter.

Despite having a good final outing of spring training, Collmenter looked more like the guy he had been for most of the spring instead of that brief shining moment. Sporting a nearly 10 ERA from spring ball, Collmenter only managed to last three innings on Sunday, surrendering five hits and six runs, with all but one of them being earned. He did end up striking out four hitters, but it wasn’t enough to undo the damage he wrought in those first three innings.

For some perspective on how patient the Diamondbacks should be with Collmenter, you probably need to look no further than the excellent way Grantland’s Jonah Keri put it:

“But the best thing to happen to the D-Backs all weekend was actually Josh Collmenter getting torched in his first start of the season. The big righty had a surprisingly effective rookie season last year, primarily by pounding the strike zone (he walked just 1.6 batters per 9 innings) and benefiting from great defense and a little luck behind him (batting average on balls in play of just .255). But right-handed starters with 87-mph fastballs never last long in this game, and Arizona has two pitching studs waiting in the wings, with 2011 draftee Trevor Bauer very nearly major league-ready. You can make a strong case that Bauer would outperform Collmenter right now, limited seasoning or not.”

Obviously, there is no way that Gibson is going to pull the plug on Collmenter already. If you want a surefire recipe for killing the confidence of this young man, that would be it. Yes, Bauer or Skaggs could potentially do a better job, but with the quality pitchers in the rotation already, Gibson has a little bit of leeway in terms of having to make a decision. He should give Josh at least a few more starts, but he also shouldn’t hesitate to stop the experiment if it continues to go south.

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