With only two weeks remaining in spring training, there are several tough decisions ahead. Since camp opened over a month ago, that has been the dilemma chasing Arizona manager Chip Hale and other decision-makers.
First, there’s The Zack Greinke Factor. The presence of Greinke, his history, production and work ethic, has had a profound effect.
In the past, players routinely undertook their drills, but with Greinke, the approach is different, Hale told reporters before Saturday’s game against Texas at Salt River. Each movement and action has a defined purpose, and Greinke’s approach has a residual effect down through the team. Once a player succeeds at a certain task, the effect tends to snowball, Hale pointed out. Other players then have a desire to match that effect and production.
“Guys here are very focused,” said first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. “Results here in spring training are not that important, but it’s here you want to establish good habits. That will carry over into the season.”
The habits of dedication, perfection and purpose which Greinke promotes forges deep into the soul and psyche of Arizona players. Because of the quest to reach a higher level and set the bar where the bar, for the Diamondbacks, has not reached in previous years, there is now great competition for many positions.
Hale tells reporters nearly each day that all of his players are performing at a high level. The eventual cuts to reach the mandated 25-roster for opening day will be difficult.
Perhaps the major question lay with the placement of infielder Jean Segura. Coming over from the Brewers in the off-season for pitcher Chase Anderson and infielder Aaron Hill, Segura, a shortstop by trade, has had a blistering spring. Coming into Saturday’s game with the Rangers at Salt River, Segura is hit safely in all eight game he’s played, hitting .583 and ranks third in the majors in hits.
If incumbent shortstop Nick Ahmed continues his hot bat, Hale may move Segura to second. Though he’s coming off a .226 season a year ago, Ahmed has hit safely in 10 of his first 11 spring games. Coming into Saturday’s game, Ahmed leads the Cactus League in triples, and ranks third in total bases.
Also in the mix for an infield position is Brandon Drury, projected at second or third. Coming into Saturday’s game, Drury is second in the Cactus League in doubles, fourth in total bases, fifth in slugging percentage, and seventh with a .375 batting average.
That puts Chris Owings, attempting to rebound from a difficult shoulder injury, in a precarious spot. Owings was projected as the team’s second baseman and, coming into Saturday’s game, was hitting .333 this spring.
If Hale faces tough decisions in the infield, there is also a traffic jam for the fourth outfielder slot. Given that David Peralta will start in right, A. J. Pollock in center and Yasmany Tomas in left, Hale is faced with deciding upon the worth and value of Socrates Brito, Evan Marzilli and Zack Borenstein, all of whom remain in the major league camp.
Then, there’s the issue of the fifth starter in the rotation. Hale says several factors, including present and past performance, will factor into the decision. With two weeks to go before the start of the season, lefty Robbie Ray seems to have the inside track.
Before Saturday’s game, Hale would not commit to Ray, and only said, “we’ll make a decision on the fifth starter by next week,” With poor performances in recent days by Archie Bradley and Zack Godley, the field for that final starter is narrow, and Ray, by all accounts, is the likely candidate.
At the same time, Hale said he is not certain he will carry 12 or 13 pitchers. If he settles on 12, that could free up an extra spot on the roster. In competition here could be outfielder Peter O’Brien. Coming into Saturday’s game, O’Brien was tied for third (with 11) in the Cactus League lead in RBIs.
Then, there’s the issue of catchers. With three in camp, Hale already named Welington Castillo as his everyday catcher. That leaves veteran Tuffy Gosewisch and Chris Herrmann as a potential back-up.
Herrmann has been out for the last week with an injured hip, and Hale wanted to have a look at Herrmann in the outfield. Now, that will not happen because Hale said, “we want to see him catch.” Once the roster is paired down, Hale indicated, there may be some time to see what Herrmann can do in the gardens. After Saturday’s game, Herrmann said he is now participating in all drills, and hopes to get into game action by mid-week.
While roster reductions usually come early in the week, there are currently 46 players remaining on the major league roster. If that patterns holds, the Diamondbacks could make their next roster cut by this coming Monday.
HOW’S GREINKE DOING?
Going five plus strong innings on Saturday, Zach Greinke showed his noted form and execution. Allowing the visiting Texas Rangers only five base runners in his 5.2 innings of work, Greinke turned in five plus shut-out innings with economy and efficiency.
“I threw some good pitches, and some not so good,” Greinke said afterward. “My change and curve were mostly good. Fast ball command was okay. Every pitch has to be better.”
For his outing, the 32-year-old right-hander allowed four hits and one walk. In the first three innings, he pounded the strike zone, and picked up seven, first-pitch strikes of the initial nine hitters he faced.
Powered by home runs from Welington Castillo, a two-run shot, and a solo blast from Brandon Drury during a 5-run second inning, the Diamondbacks defeated the Texas Rangers, 11-1 before a standing-room crowd of 13,360 at Salt River. The sell-out was the sixth for the Diamondbacks at home, and the team has six more home dates at Salt River.
With the win, Greinke ran his spring record to1-0, and lowered his ERA to 1.88. He will likely receive two more spring starts, and then get ready to face the Colorado Rockies Opening Day on April 4 in Chase Field.
For Sunday, the Diamondbacks travel across the Phoenix metro area to engage the Cincinnati Reds (1:05 p.m.) in Goodyear. Right-hander Shelby Miller gets the start for Arizona, and the Reds will counter with lefty Brandon Finnegan.