Results tagged ‘ D-backs ’

I survived cancer and the D-backs 5K run

PHOENIX — I ran the D-backs first annual cancer 5K through the streets of downtown Phoenix on Saturday morning in a surprising 49 minutes, 48 seconds.

Considering that I usually average 18-minute miles, that’s pretty good for me.

I then took part in the weenie 1K family fun walk with my friend, Joey Reaves, and his wife, Lynne, who helped coordinate the event with the D-backs for St. Joseph’s Hospital. Joey, a prostate cancer survivor, is a former foreign correspondent and sportswriter par excellence, who now works for the Dodgers. Proof positive that cancer knows no affiliations nor boundaries.

As a two-time colon cancer survivor, I ran on Saturday for myself and some of my friends who are currently battling different forms of cancer. Michael Weiner and Juan Rodriguez are struggling with very virulent forms of brain cancer. Jim Gintonio has lung cancer.

Derrick Hall and Ken Kendrick in the D- backs hierarchy are also prostrate cancer survivors.

Pray for them. Think good thoughts for them. Good health and god bless them all along with the multitudes suffering from this disease. I honored their names by scribbling them around the placard boasting my race No. 38.

More than 3 1/2 years ago, I had a second bout with colon cancer when it jumped into my lung. I had surgery to bisect the upper lobe of my left lung to remove a tumor about the size of my finger tip. Two days after the surgery doctors had me on a tread mill. They wanted me to start by walking eight minutes twice a day with a goal of steadily rebuilding breathing capacity. Two weeks later I surpassed 30 minutes twice a day.

It’s an old cliche, but a truism: When there’s a will, there’s a way.

I’ve always been over weight, but I’ve always worked out. I never smoked. Now I no longer drink alcohol. In the last year I lost 60 pounds and I’ve kept almost all of that off.

The net result: In the last week I’ve had three light jogs of three miles or more. All that with a bisected lung. I’m in better shape now than before I had cancer. I’m lucky. I’m fortunate. But it’s been a lot of hard work. As the old joke goes, I bought the lottery ticket. No one could do that for me.

Out on the streets this morning I was passed by most of the younger and faster runners who left me in the dust right away. Guys wheeling baby carriages with one hand were rolling right by me. Women running backwards. Children walking. About a mile or so in I hit a comfortable pace. I started passing the people out for a stroll who were even slower than me.

The day started unusually gray and cold for the desert. Suddenly, the sky broke and the sun came out, bringing warmth along with it. I sprinted to the finish line and ran into D-backs great Luis Gonzalez. He had finished just in front me. Hundreds of people finished behind me.

If we can do it, you can. Early detection. Positive state of mind. Put in the work. There’s your own No. 38 and a medal for finishing at the end of the rainbow.

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Towers: D-backs not hoisting white flag

PHOENIX — Despite what it may look like on the surface, the D-backs are not “waiving the white flag” in their race for a playoff spot with the trade on Sunday of veteran left-handed starter Joe Saunders to the Orioles for right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom, Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said.

They dropped a three-game series to the Padres at Chase Field and ended action on Sunday, trailing the first-place Giants by seven games in the National League West and the Cardinals by 6 1/2 for the newly-minted second NL Wild Card berth. The two non-division winning teams with the best records in the NL will meet in a “win and in” playoff game on Oct. 5. for the right to play the top seed in this year’s best-of-five NL Division Series.

“We wanted to sustain what we did last year,” Towers said, referring to his club’s surprising 2011 run into the first round of the playoffs. “We’re not waiving the white flag. We have a lot of games in the division. Hopefully we can get hot. Until we’re eliminated we’ll just keep playing.”

In recent weeks the D-backs have shed themselves of two veterans — Saunders and shortstop Stephen Drew — which is usually not the message one wants to send either to the fans or the rest of the players on the team as the season heads into its crucial final weeks. The teams above them have added like crazy. The Giants brought in Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro. The Dodgers, by virtue of Saturday’s mega trade with the Red Sox, have now added Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez and Joe Blanton to the current active roster.

The D-backs countered with Lindstrom and third baseman Chris Johnson.

In Zona, this all smacks of getting ready for 2013, despite Towers’ claims to the contrary. Towers said he wanted to get a good read on rookies Jake Elmore at shortstop and Tyler Skaggs in the starting rotation. In fact, Towers insisted that the D-backs are better right now with Elmore over Drew at short and Skaggs over Saunders. Only the last month of the season will tell.

But here’s the reality of it all: The D-backs had no intention of exercising a $10 million option to bring back Drew next season or paying him a $1.35 million buyout. They saved about $3 million shedding him when they did. They have to make a decision whether to pick up a $6.5 million option on closer J.J. Putz for next season or buy him out for $1.5 million. Don’t expect them to exercise that option, either.

Next season, the D-backs can slide setup man David Hernandez into the closer slot and replace him in the eighth inning with Lindstrom.

The D-backs have $15 million in deferred money coming off the books at the end of this season, but even that currently makes them bit players in a division where the Dodgers and Giants will just keep spending and even the Padres are at a different level with new ownership and a $1.2 billion television deal that will give them an average of $60 million to spend each year over the next 20 years.

And what happens when the Dodgers sign a new TV deal that could net them $5 billion over next 20 years? Already, with the $61 million additions of A-Gon, Beckett and Carl Crawford, the Dodgers payroll is pegged at $189 million for 2013. And we haven’t gone into the offseason.

The D-backs are simply up against it, which is why the more than adept Towers has to juggle the fortunes of the present with the projections of the future. No white-flag waiver is he.

“[Going into the current season] I felt we were better on paper,” he said. “I don’t think the division is that much stronger. We probably overachieved last year and this is who we are.”

D-backs need quality starter, closer. That’s it!

PHOENIX — Ken Kendrick, the D-backs managing general partner, said this week in the wake of the club’s 10-game losing streak, that major changes are in the offing for the Major League roster.

“When the team is playing as badly as this team is…you really need to look very broadly at everything and try to objectively determine what kind of changes you really want to make,” he said.

The current roster as it stands is quite adequate except in two areas: The D-backs need a quality starting pitcher and reliable closer. That’s it. Both holes are the residue of organizational decisions that shouldn’t be blamed on anybody.

In this space I’ve said before that the decision to trade Jose Valverde after the close of the 2007 season, mostly for financial reasons, started a domino affect on the bullpen that the D-backs are still feeling to this day. The D-backs lost Valverde’s 47 saves in ’07 and have yet to find anyone who can replace them. They saved 39 games in ’08, a falloff of eight from Valverde’s numbers a year
before, and finished two games out. They saved 36 games last year, 10 so far this year — 11 blown.

Brandon Webb hurt his shoulder at the outset of the 2009 season, although there was ample evidence in September of ’08 that the problem was ruminating.  He hasn’t pitched since. After shoulder surgery last August, the D-backs made a decision to exercise an $8.5 million option on Webb for this season, hoping he would return to his former Cy Young award-winning form. When he couldn’t even throw, there was no “Plan B.” Webb won 22 games in ’08. With a patchwork quilt of starters trying to fill that slot, the D-backs haven’t even come close in each of the last two seasons.

Certainly there have been other mistakes: The contract to Eric Byrnes, since released and out of baseball, that the D-backs are still paying. The failure to come to terms with second baseman Orlando Hudson, causing another round robin of free-agent signees and utility players at that key position.

The D-backs have a core of good young players that should remain untouched — Dan Haren, Edwin Jackson, Conor Jackson, Justin Upton, Mark Reynolds, Miguel Montero and Ian Kennedy. But they need a top starter and a closer. You can’t win, especially in the NL West, without that.

  

Webb on cusp: can he make it back this year?

PHOENIX — It is almost June and the possibility of Brandon Webb
returning to the D-back this season is growing doubtful. The
right-handed pitcher hasn’t thrown off a mound since March 4 and he
hasn’t thrown in a game since Opening Day of the 2009 season.

He
had surgery last August to clean out his right shoulder and the recovery
progress has been agonizingly slow. When his arm is strong enough it
will be at least a month of progressing from pitching to live batters,
to simulated games, to Minor League rehab starts before he’s ready to
throw again in the Major Leagues, D-backs manager A.J. Hinch said on
Friday. And that’s without any further setbacks.

The D-backs have
long ago ceased to establish anymore timetables, all of them having
gone by the wayside as Spring Training turned into the regular season
and the months have progressed.

Webb’s $8.5 million contract
expires at the end of the season. There are no more options. Thus, while
the chances of him pitching again by the All-Star break are nil, the
chances of him throwing in a D-backs uniform again are exceedingly dim.

Webb
looked the happiest he’s been in months on Friday when he came off the
field after a throwing session. For the second day in a row at Chase
Field he threw nice and easy on flat ground from about 90 feet, having
adjusted his arm slot a little lower. Webb was ecstatic, which is good
news. Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess.

As the season
inexorably moves on no one in the D-backs camp is yet willing to count
the former National League Cy Young Award winner out. But the calender
doesn’t lie. Webb has four months.

Giants hanging in there with 10 games to go; Sabean, Bochy should both return in 2010

PHOENIX — No matter what happens to the Giants in the National League’s Wild Card race, they’ve had a wildly successful season.

Coming off 90 losses in 2008, the Giants at least secured a .500 record with their 5-2 victory over the D-backs at Chase Field on Wednesday night. At 82 wins with 10 games to play, that’s already 10 victories better than ’08. Coupled with a Rockies loss to the Padres in Denver, the Giants are four games behind in the Wild Card race, tied with the suddenly surging Braves.

“We’re still breathing, we got help,” manager Bruce Bochy said after the game. “We’re running out of games. We know that, but there’s still hope.”

The Giants head home to play the Cubs this weekend, while the Rox get the NL Central-leading Cardinals at Coors Field. The Cards need a win or a Cubs loss to capture another division title. The Braves, meanwhile, get three vs. the 99-loss Nationals in Washington.

What the Giants have done should be enough to secure the jobs of Bochy and long-time general manager Brian Sabean, whose contracts both expire at the end of the season. Bill Neukom, the team’s new managing general partner, has told both men they’ll be evaluated with everyone else in the organization this offseason. Here’s hoping that the process doesn’t take long and neither of them are left dangling. They are both consummate professionals. Thus far, Neukom has kept his word and there has been silence on the subject internally and externally.

The Giants haven’t made the playoffs since 2003, but that’s not for lack of effort. In the post-Barry Bonds era, Sabean deserves credit for resisting the trade of his young pitchers — Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Brian Wilson — for more grizzled veterans. With his future and job on the line, it would’ve been easy to take the “win it at all costs now” route. But Sabean didn’t. He stayed the course and the Giants should reward Sabean by staying with him.

Bochy has done one of his best managerial jobs this year, keeping a team with a thread-bare offense — the Giants’ 112 homers are next to last in the 16-team NL  — in contention for a playoff spot. But that’s not surprising. In his 12 years managing the Padres and now three with the Giants, Boch has always gotten the most out of every club. He won four division titles and the 1998 NL pennant in San Diego and was on a two-year playoff streak when he up and left the Padres for the Giants with one year left on his contract. The Giants owe him a debt of gratitude for coming and an extension for a job well done.

It’s tempting in this era of  instant Twitters and instant success to look elsewhere. But is anyone better out there? Ask Astros owner Drayton McLane, who fired GM Tim Pupura and manager Phil Garner only two years after a World Series loss to the White Sox. McLane brought in Ed Wade and Cecil Cooper. Since then the Astros have continued to falter and Cooper has been dismissed. Sometimes it’s better to stay the course.

The Giants still have an outside chance of making the postseason. If they tie the Rockies after 162 games, they’ll host a one-game Wild Card playoff at AT&T Park by virtue of a 10-8 head-to-head record with Colorado. If they don’t, there’s nothing to hang their heads about.

“Our goal this year was to go to the postseason,” Bochy said. “We all thought we had the team here to do it. But no question, as an organization we wanted to make an improvement. That’s something we wanted to accomplish. We wanted to play winning baseball and now we’ve done that.”

And so, the architect and the manager should be rewarded accordingly.

 

Rockies go home with fate in their own hands

PHOENIX — The Rockies return to Coors Field on Tuesday night to open a nine-game homestand against the Padres in control of the National League’s Wild Card race. By virtue of back-to-back Chase Field victories over the D-backs while the the Giants lost consecutive games to the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday, the Rox lead the Lads by 4 1/2 games with 12 left to play.

It’s not time to pop any corks yet. “There’s nothing finished,” said Rox interim manager Jim Tracy. “We have to keep plowing forward.”

But if the Rox hold their own at Coors against the Padres, Cardinals and Brewers, a second trip to the postseason in three years will be theirs. Like 2007, when they were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series, the Rockies will win the NL Wild Card berth. This time it should happen without the drama of a one-game playoff. Two years ago, they had to come from behind in the 13th inning to beat Trevor Hoffman and the Padres.

It still is up to question whether Matt Holliday actually touched the plate when he scored the winning run that October night. “Do you think I did?” Holliday asked somewhat rhetorically when I asked him about it again earlier this season. I covered that game and my answer was “no” then and it remains the same today. Holliday just gave me that little glint of a smile, leaving the question open for all eternity. The plate ump called him safe and that’s all that counts.

This time, the club has ridden Tracy’s managerial expertise. The Rox are 67-37 since Tracy took over for the deposed Clint Hurdle on May 29. And someday soon one suspects that GM Dan O’Dowd is going to remove the interim tag from his title with a nice, fat contract extension.

Tracy was a good manager with a Dodgers team that he managed into the 2004 postseason, but he’s even better now, riding the percentages and his own intuition to make effective moves. On Saturday night, he pinch-hit Ryan Spilborghs in the seventh inning against Clay Zavada. Spilborghs contribued an RBI-double and remained in the game to add another in the ninth. In that final inning, Tracy sent up Jason Giambi as a pinch-hitter and the former Yankee and Oakland star smashed a three-run homer.

On Sunday, both Spilborghs and Giambi were in the starting lineup. Spilborghs replaced the slumping Brad Hawpe with the added incentive of being 9-for-21 lifetime against D-backs starter Dan Haren. Tracy wanted to give Giambi some work at first base while resting Todd Helton. Spliborghs had a big single off Haren in a three-run seventh inning that put the Rox ahead to stay. Giambi went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer.

Giambi’s simply 6-for-15 with a double, two homers and 11 RBIs since he was taken off the scrap heap by the Rockies after his release by the A’s.

“I wasn’t healthy there,” Giambi said about the end of the line in Oakland. “But I’m excited to be here. It’s great to be in the race. I talked to a lot of people about Tracy and he’s a big reason why I came over. I’m glad I’m here.”

The Giants come into Chase on Monday night to open a three-game series against the 85-loss D-backs with the season on the line. They’ve lost three out of their last four at the season’s crucial time and can’t afford to lose any more. Still, if the Rockies hold their own it won’t much matter anymore what the Giants do.

“We’re at the great point in the season where we hold our fate in our own hands,” Tracy said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be playing meaningful games in October. If we don’t we won’t have anyone to blame, but ourselves. There will be no excuses.”

D-backs need to “reload” bullpen, Hinch says

PHOENIX — It may be a matter of semantics at this point, but when I asked D-backs manager A.J. Hinch whether  he needed to “rebuild” the club’s bullpen for next season, he responded: “Rebuild may not be the right word for it, but maybe reload a little bit.”

During the course of what is now an 83-loss season, the Arizona bullpen has saved 32 games, the third lowest in the 16-team National League. As of this writing, 13 individual big-league closers have more than Arizona’s 32 combined saves. D-backs closer, Chad Qualls, out until next season after surgery to repair a torn knee ligament, is now 20th overall in the Majors with 24 saves.

To me, Qualls is a fine setup guy, but he’s not a closer, although there doesn’t seem to be agreement there from the manager. “I’m fine with Qualls as the closer,” Hinch said. “He does it in a different way. He’s not your typical 95-98 [mph] power closer.”

Neither is Trevor Hoffman, but somehow he’s the all-time leader with 587 saves.

Call me crazy, but the D-backs again need somebody like that. In my mind, you start with the closer and build the bullpen backwards to close the gap between the relievers and the starters. If it’s a solid bridge a team has a chance to win a lot of games. To wit, two years ago, the D-backs pen saved 51 games, 47 of them by Jose Valverde. They won the National League West by a game, which means Arizona needed every last one of those saves to make the playoffs. Add to the fact pile that the D-backs also scored 17 runs less runs that season than they scored.

The pen in 2007 was Tony Pena and Juan Cruz as the seventh-inning guys, Brandon Lyon as a lights-out eighth inning guy, who then handed the ball over to the often-emotional Valverde. They are all gone — Cruz and Lyon to free agency, Pena and Valverde via trades. Valverde was the first to go in the 2007 offseason. It was a financial move because the D-backs weren’t inclined to pay Pada Grande what he might have won through arbitration.

It had an immediate ripple affect. Lyon was moved up to close and didn’t last the season in that slot, giving way in September to Qualls, who the D-backs obtained from the Astros in the Valverde trade. Pena never seemed to develop. John Rauch was obatined from Washington and didn’t prove to be reliable. He’s also gone. The short of it is that the D-backs pen saved 39 games in ’08 and just missed winning the NL West title, finishing two games behind the Dodgers. One is left wondering what might have happened had they not traded Valverde, who is a free agent this offseason.

With Rauch traded and Qualls on the DL, the D-backs are left with a pen that includes Juan Gutirerrez, Blaine Boyer, Daniel Schlereth, Clay Zavada and Esmerling Vasquez. Not a lot of household names among the bunch. And Qualls must recover sufficiently from surgery to contribute.

“I think he can get the job done,” Hinch said about Qualls. “But more importantly is who surrounds him when he’s not available. As this season has evolved with Vasquez and Gutirerrez, their maturation will play a very important in how we put next year’s bullpen together.”

Rebuild or reload? The difference seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

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