February 2010

Webb on pace to make debut in the middle of Spring Training

TUSCON, Ariz. — I ran into Brandon Webb this morning munching on a bagel in the hallway outside the D-backs clubhouse at Tucson Electric Park. He said that his bullpens are getting increasingly better and that he will probably throw to live hitters in about a week.

That would put him on pace to make his debut about the middle Spring Training and place him in position to start the third game of the regular season against the Padres on April 7 at Chase Filed in Phoenix. The D-backs open their last Cactus League season in Tucson next Thursday here against the Rockies.

Webb seemed content this morning with his progress. He pitched four innings in the opener last year and then missed the rest of the season with a sore right shoulder. After trying to rehab it, he finally underwent arthroscopic clean-up surgery on Aug. 3.

He’s the team’s work horse and without him back to his usual form, the D-backs will have a hard time contending this season in the National League West. Without him vying for his usual 20-win season in 2009, the D-backs suffered through a 12-loss turnaround from 82-80 in ’08 to 70-92 last season.

Some scouts wonder whether Webb can make it back, but with his give-me-the ball attitude and inner strength, I believe Webb will throw 200 innings and make another run at the Cy Young in the NL, an award he won in 2006.

The D-backs are working the right-handed Webb back slowly this spring and manager A.J. Hinch has already given Dan Haren the nod to start the regular-season opener on April 5 against San Diego. That took the pressure off Webb and gave Haren the much-deserved start after his 14-win, ’09 season. Haren and Webb combined for 38 wins two years ago as the D-backs finished two games behind the division-winning Dodgers.

Webb is 87-62 with a 3.27 ERA in 198 starts over the course of his seven-year career, all with Arizona. He’s on the final year of his contract and would like to remain with the team. That, of course, will be contingent on his health and performance.

Sudden death overtime baseball

I wish I was on Commissioner Bud Selig’s Special Committee that is delving into the nuances of Major League Baseball. Sudden death overtime would be my top suggestion.

It would shorten games and take an instant edge away from the home team, which under the currents rules, has the greater advantage in extra inning games.

Here’s my drift: Once the game goes into the bottom of the ninth inning tied, that’s it, the first run scored wins it. That’s the way it already is for the home team, but wait. If the visitors score in the top of extra innings, the home team gets another shot at it. Not under my new rules. If the visitors homer in the top of the 10th, it’s a walk off, that’s it. That would put added pressure on every pitch. It’s actually a fairer rule than the one in place now.

I love overtime playoff hockey. The first puck in the net wins it. The game keeps going in 20 minute increments until that happens. I’ve covered four Stanley Cup finals that have been won on overtime goals. Nothing more exciting in sports.

Imagine if a World Series game went into extra innings under the sudden death rule. Imagine the pathos while each player comes to bat in extras. One run at any time and it’s over.

I know this severally bucks tradition, but so did the three division format, so did Wild Card playoff berths in both leagues. Seventeen years after their adoption it’s common place. No one questions it. Some people are calling for more Wild Card teams, a play-in round, seven games in each Division Series. All good ideas.

But I like my idea. Sudden death overtime baseball. There would be nothing like it.