By Greg Dillard
Miguel Montero has proven to be a force at the plate throughout his first five seasons in the Major Leagues. When he is hot, Montero’s bat can change the complexion of the D-backs lineup.
In a St. Patricks’ Day matchup against the Dodgers, Montero was the lightning rod behind the Arizona offense.
In the top of the second inning, he laced a single into center field to start a two-out rally. One batter later, Montero crossed home plate on Ryan Roberts’ double off the left field wall.
Montero struck again in the fourth inning. After Justin Upton and Russell Branyan reached base, Montero rocketed a Chad Billingsley offering into the right-centerfield gap to plate both runners.
As his sixth big league season nears, Montero is starting to find his stroke at the plate.
“Today, I think is the best I’ve felt all Spring Training,” Montero said. “I feel like I’m closer to the season so I need to get ready.”
Heilman makes case for spot in rotation
Aaron Heilman entered Spring Training with his sights set on making his way into the D-backs starting rotation.
After spending last season as a reliable reliever in the Arizona bullpen, Heilman has done his part to possibly earn a rotation spot. On Thursday, Heilman started against the Dodgers and became the first D-backs pitcher to pitch through five innings this Spring.
“I felt like I was settling in out there,” Heilman said. “Felt like I could’ve kept going out there. I didn’t feel tired. I felt like the work I put in the offseason has really helped, and put me in a position to compete.”
Heilman cruised through the first inning behind a strikeout and double play. In the second, Heilman struck out Matt Kemp and got James Loney to fly out.
The right-hander then shattered Juan Uribe’s bat on an inside pitch to get a groundout and end the inning. Heilman would fight through the next two innings, allowing only Kemp’s two run homer to left.
In his fifth and final inning of work, Heilman ended his day on a high note by retiring Andre Ethier and Kemp on fly outs for the first two outs. Loney smacked a single, but that was all for the Dodger offense as Heilman struck out Uribe with ease.
Following his longest outing of the Spring, Heilman was pleased with the results.
“I felt pretty good,” Heilman said. “I was able to make some adjustments from the last start, kept the ball down for the most part. Hung a pitch to Kemp, and he doesn’t miss many of those. Other than that, felt like a good job pitching out of a jam in the third. Arm felt good, body felt good, feel like I’m right where I need to be.”
Competition for roster spots far from settled
Between the roster players and non-roster invitees, the D-backs knew this Spring would be a time for heavy competition.
As Spring Training heads into the final two weeks, the battle for the final roster spots are still yet to be determined.
“We’ve got a lot of games coming up right now,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “We stayed around last night had a lot of discussion. I don’t think there’s a real consensus at this time. If I had to pick my team today, I’m not sure it’s as clear as everybody thinks it is.”
Branyan and Wily Mo Pena have been pleasant surprises this Spring after entering camp on minor league deals.
The competition for starting first baseman duties is still in full swing with Juan Miranda, Brandon Allen and Branyan all trying to make their case.
The final two spots in the starting rotation are also wide open. Heilman, Armando Galarraga and Barry Enright are vying for inclusion.
The strong play of several of these players will force Gibson and his staff to make difficult decisions in the coming weeks.
“It’s just a lot of things to take in consideration,” Gibson said. “Obviously, you want to pick your best 25 guys. You have to weigh other things like experience; sometimes you get fooled by Spring Training performance. At this point, I would say there’s a lot of things to be determined.”