Photo by Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
The Arizona State baseball program has long produced Major League caliber players. From Reggie Jackson and Barry Bonds to Ike Davis and Brett Wallace, many former Sun Devils have taken their talents to the next level.
In 2011, infielder Jason Kipnis is the latest former Sun Devil to be on the verge of big league success.
In addition to being a three-time All-Star for an Indians club that won six American League Central Division titles and two AL Pennants over his 13-year Major League pitching career, one of D-backs pitching coach Charles Nagy’s indelible memories of his time in Cleveland centered around fellow right-hander (and one of the game’s all-time greats) Bob Feller.
The Baseball Hall of Famer, who passed away last December at the age of 92, broke into the league in 1936 as a 17-year-old fireballer from Van Meter, Iowa, pitching his way to 266 career wins, 2,581 strikeouts, a 3.25 ERA and eight All-Star appearances in an era that boasted the likes of Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. And he also missed four years of his pitching prime to volunteer to serve in the Navy during World War II.
Still, Feller never strayed far from the game after his retirement in 1956.
“In my rookie year in 1989, I first saw Bob in Spring Training,” Nagy began, “and he was out there shagging fly balls and talking baseball with all the guys. From that year on, it was ‘Hey, Bob’s in camp this week.’ All the guys would sit and chat with him. We had a really good relationship, and I always enjoyed talking to him.
“He would tell us about whom he faced and the outcomes, but he would also talk about old-school pitching – pitching inside with a purpose, going up and down in the zone and attacking the hitters. It was the little things, too. He talked about pitchers needing to field their position. Every time I would see him, he would always remind me of that. It was always about teaching pitchers right, making sure guys knew to cover first and to throw strikes.”
Nagy was certainly receptive to Rapid Robert’s advice, ending his career with 129 wins (10th on Cleveland’s all-time list) in 313 games before being inducted into the Indians’ Hall of Fame in 2007 – exactly 50 years after Feller’s similar honor.
“I talked to Bob a lot over the years,” Nagy said. “He liked to talk, and he’d just sit down and talk baseball through and through. He was always around in Spring Training and would come down to the locker room. He was always easy to talk to and, of course, we had the common interest of baseball. His wife went to the University of Connecticut where I went to school. We would talk pitching, but you would just listen to him. He was Bob Feller, a Hall of Famer, and he always had great stories and great advice. He was just a very nice man, and he was always nice to me.”
Photo by Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
In last homestand’s edition of D-backs Insider magazine, Ryan Roberts was labeled a sparkplug. It was a perfect label for a player that consistently makes things happen in the field and at the plate for the D-backs.
On Tuesday, Roberts was up to his usual habits. With the score knotted at 4-4, Roberts led off the bottom of the ninth inning by drawing a walk against Indians left-hander Tony Sipp.
Roberts wasn’t about to drop anchor at first base, but instead he was soon off to the races. He quickly swiped second for his 10th stolen base of the season. Several pitches later, Roberts was in motion once again. This time he bolted toward third, reaching safely with ease.
“Every pitcher does something, and you’ve just got to wait until you see a key,” Roberts said. “When you see a key, (don’t) give it away by jumping (around) out there. Just try to stay calm and whenever I thought I could get it, (I) took off.”
All of a sudden, the winning run was just 90 feet away. Roberts was hoping to do anything he could to draw Sipp’s attention from the pinch hitter Wily Mo Peña.
“In a situation like that, the pressure is on him to throw strikes,” Roberts said. “If I can take his mind off the batter and off throwing strikes … maybe get him to balk then we get a run scored (and) we win.”
After missing on a breaking ball to start the at-bat, Peña drilled a two-run walk-off home run into the left-field bleachers to seal the 6-4 win. It was Peña’s second career walk-off homer.
“I said I was going to go and look for a breaking pitch,” Peña said. “Everybody saw the first swing that I took. It was so hard because I was looking for a breaking pitch. So the second one I said, ‘let him bring it up,’ and that’s what happened.”
Hudson firing on all cylinders
To say Daniel Hudson helped his team defeat the Indians would be an understatement.
The D-backs’ right-hander did everything he could against Cleveland on Tuesday night. Hudson turned in a complete effort by contributing both on the mound and at the plate.
In his 17th start of the season, Hudson unleashed eight solid innings, allowing just a pair of runs on six hits. Hudson retired the Indians in the second, fourth, and sixth innings. He also notched five strikeouts to raise his season total to 92.
It was Hudson’s 13th quality start of the 2011 campaign, which leads the Arizona pitching staff and is tied for third in the National League.
Hudson helped his cause by laying down a two sacrifice bunts in the game. He also laced an RBI double into the right field corner in the fifth inning. He now leads the D-backs’ pitching staff with seven RBI.
Despite not getting the win himself, Hudson was pleased with his overall effort against the Tribe.
“I didn’t have great command tonight,” Hudson said, “but I pushed through it and was able to help out and get a couple of guys in scoring position. I got a pretty good swing on a fastball.”
Castillo makes D-backs debut
Just hours after arriving at Chase Field as a new member of the D-backs’ bullpen, lefty reliever Alberto Castillo toed the rubber.
Gibson called on Castillo in the middle of the ninth inning to face Lonnie Chisenhall. The new D-back did his part by freezing Chisenhall on strike three to end the inning. He would also earn the win, thanks to Peña’s blast one inning later.
Tuesday’s appearance was Castillo’s first Major League outing since June 8, 2010, when he was a Baltimore Oriole.
By Greg Dillard
The D-backs made some changes to their bullpen on Tuesday by selecting the contracts of relievers Yhency Brazoban and Alberto Castillo from Triple-A. To make room for them on the active roster, Esmerling Vasquez and Bryan Shaw were sent back to Reno.
Both hurlers were pitching well for the Aces before receiving the promotion to the big leagues. Castillo recently joined the Arizona organization via a Minor League deal on June 17. The left-hander made five appearances for the Aces, four of which were hitless outings.
Castillo reached the Major League level with the Baltimore Orioles. From 2008 to 2010, the southpaw posted a 4.81 ERA in 62 games. In 48 2/3 innings of work, he struck out 42 batters.
Castillo’s recent success at Reno made him an attractive option for the D-backs.
“We wanted to get a second left-hander for sure,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “(Executive Vice President and General Manager Kevin Towers) was in Reno last week. He was also in Mobile before that, and felt Castillo was throwing the ball very good. He just came in the organization. He also was throwing the ball well before he got there.”
Brazoban meanwhile earned a 1-1 record and a respectable 2.70 ERA in his eight games at Reno. Brazoban is a familiar name for the D-backs, spending parts of five seasons with the division-rival Dodgers. He was most recently in the Major Leagues in 2008, and owns a 10-12 mark and a 4.70 career ERA at the big league level.
“As for Brazoban, he’s a guy with some experience,” Gibson said. “Obviously, with the Dodgers he hasn’t been in the big leagues in a couple of years, but he’s been throwing the ball like he did in 2007 and 2008. He’s got good velocity, throwing strikes. He’s got experience in those situations. I’ve been talking about that portion of our bullpen. Kevin felt that this is the direction we need to go in, and we’re going to see how this works out.”
The additions of Brazoban and Castillo provide the D-backs with a pair of fresh arms. By selecting Castillo, Gibson now has the luxury of having two southpaws in the bullpen.
“You can look at the Giants, it works for them,” Gibson said. “This Cleveland club here is another example. It effectively lets you match up two times through. Whereas the way we’ve had it with Joe (Paterson), it’s a onetime shot. It’ll let us do things a little differently.”
Gibson ready for next hot streak
After a catching fire in mid-May, the D-backs have cooled off a bit here in June. Arizona has suffered three consecutive losses, heading into Tuesday night’s contest against Indians.
Although the D-backs have battled some adversity as of late, Gibson remains confident that his team will get back to its winning ways.
“It goes in cycles,” Gibson said. “Every team will probably go through periods where things don’t go as they’d like them. You just have to endure them. The Giants lose what four or five in a row. Now they’re on a run. So that’s what we’re going to try and do.”
Photo by Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
The Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks have been two of baseball’s most surprising teams in 2011. Both teams have surpassed expectations and sit near the top of their divisional standings.
The D-backs are set to host the Tribe in a three-game set this week in the final home series at Chase Field before the All-Star break.
Arizona enters tonight’s series at 43-36 and 1.5 games out of first place in the NL West, while Cleveland owns a 40-36 record and trails first place Detroit by 1.5 games in the AL Central division race. After suffering 93 losses a season ago, few saw the Indians competing for a division title this season.
“They surprised everybody,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “Their bullpen is the best in the American League. They’ve got some very athletic kids. They’re going to throw seven left-handers at us tonight. They’re very aggressive. They play good defense.”
In the bullpen, closer Chris Perez has locked down 18 saves. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera makes highlight-reel plays on a routine basis, while designated hitter Travis Hafner is red-hot with a .338 batting average.
Prior to Monday’s series opener, Cleveland promoted former first-round pick Lonnie Chisenhall from Triple-A Columbus. With both teams just 1.5 games out of first place, it’s sure to be entertaining.
“We saw it in Spring Training, and they’ve carried it into the season,” Gibson said. “This game is very unpredictable. It’s a credit to them as to where they’re at today. Just like the last opponent, they’ll be very tough for us.”
Gibson reflects on his days with Sparky
Throughout Gibson’s tenure as D-backs manager, he’s spoken of the impact his former manager Sparky Anderson had on him.
Gibson played for Anderson’s Tigers from 1979 to 1987. Under Anderson’s direction, the Tigers won 104 games in 1984 en route to a World Series championship.
On Sunday, the Tigers honored Anderson by retiring his famous No. 11. Since the D-backs were in Detroit wrapping up a three-game series, Gibson and bench coach Alan Trammell were on hand to witness the tribute.
“Sparky’s had a huge impact on me, and Alan, and so many other people,” Gibson said. “He was represented very well yesterday by the speeches, the video, just talking to the people, and to see the Detroit fans react the way they did…”
Although Gibson last played for Anderson over two decades ago, his impact is still felt to this day.
“It’s why I’m the way I am,” Gibson said. “He’s affected me more so than anybody I’ve been associated with in the game. He certainly taught us how to play the game and how to act professional and a lot of the things that I preach here, but he really cared about you as a person.”