Photo by Jonathan Willey
By Greg Dillard
The past two seasons had been forgettable ones for the D-backs, with Arizona sputtering to consecutive last places finishes in 2009 and ‘10. They fell victim to high strikeout totals and a lackluster bullpen, with the postseason being a distant thought.
Things have taken a drastic change in 2011.
Photo by Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
The All-Star break afforded many D-backs players the chance to travel and spend some time away from the diamond. The break gave them a breather from the intense grind of a 162-game season.
They now return for the final 70 games of the 2011 regular season recharged and anxious to compete for a division title.
Photography: Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
Veteran catcher Henry Blanco isn’t known for his power at the plate. He hit just 60 career home runs in 13 seasons in the Major Leagues.
However, Blanco has some pop when he’s been penciled in manager Kirk Gibson’s starting lineup lately.
In his last four games, the catcher has crushed four home runs. Two of them came in Monday night’s matchup against the Padres, as Blanco had the fourth two-homer game of his career.
He last accomplished the feat in April 2009 against the Giants when he was a member of the Padres.
Both of Blanco’s long balls came off of Padres’ southpaw Clayton Richard. The first came in the third inning, and the second came in the fifth.
“Henry is great,” Gibson said. “He’s played well for us. He really has. He had a good night for us tonight.”
Paterson continues scoreless streak
Southpaw Joe Paterson’s rookie season in the Major Leagues continues to be an impressive one.
He turned in yet another scoreless outing on Monday night against the Dodgers. He has now posted 17 consecutive scoreless outings, spanning 8 2/3 innings to start his D-backs career.
Paterson took over on the mound in the top of the ninth, and quickly retired Chase Headley on a fly out to left field.
Paterson then sat down Brad Hawpe and Will Venable on groundouts to end the inning.
Kennedy dominating in 2011
Through nine starts, Ian Kennedy is enjoying a stellar start to his second season in Arizona.
In 2011, he has a 4-1 record with a 3.05 in nine starts. His 59 innings pitched also places him third among all National League starters.
Against the Dodgers on Sunday, the right-hander allowed just one earned run in six innings of work. Against the Phillies on April 25, Kennedy outdueled Cliff Lee by hurling a shutout.
While he posted nine wins last year, Kennedy believes his ability to adjust during the game has led to increased success on the mound.
“I’ve been executing a lot more,” Kennedy said, “just trying to apply what I learned last year, and make in game adjustments quicker rather than waiting for a whole batter to pass.”
Kennedy has struggled in just one of his starts this year, a loss at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“That was one thing I was disappointed in myself when I pitched against the Cardinals,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t make the adjustment. I catch myself earlier now.”
The D-backs ace is slated to make his next start this Friday at Chase Field against the Minnesota Twins.
By Greg Dillard
The D-backs shook up their bullpen Wednesday, recalling right-hander Esmerling Vasquez from Triple-A Reno, and optioning right-hander Kam Mickolio to Reno.
Vasquez is a familiar name at Chase Field as this marks his third season with the big league club. He made his debut in 2009, and has spent the majority of the last two season in the Major Leagues. During that time, Vasquez has posted a 4.81 ERA in 110 games.
Vasquez enjoyed a strong Spring Training, but just narrowly missed making the Opening Day roster. He didn’t have to wait long, just under three weeks, before receiving the call to the big leagues.
In his first day back in the Majors, Vasquez took the mound in the top of the fifth inning and retired Skip Schumaker to end the inning. He threw another full inning, allowing just one hit.
In his lone outing for Reno this season, Vasquez tossed a scoreless inning without allowing a base runner.
The young hurler is pleased with his recent results and is excited to be back in Sedona red.
“I’m working hard and I feel more comfortable with my mechanics,” Vasquez said.
As Vasquez embarks on his third season at the Major League level, he hopes to continue improving and learning.
“Every year you learn more,” Vasquez said. “When you see a couple pitchers who have a lot of time, you watch and you learn. I take something.”
Gutierrez rebounds after recent struggles
After struggling on the mound in recent outings, allowing three earned runs in each of his last two appearances, D-backs relief pitcher Juan Gutierrez began to look like his old self on Wednesday night.
Gutierrez entered the game in the top of the seventh inning, and threw two innings of one-hit, shutout baseball against the Cardinals.
In his two innings of work, Gutierrez struck out three of the seven batters he faced.
“Gutierrez threw good,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “We had him on the mound before the game trying to get him to not overdo it. He threw the ball great tonight, and located much better. His breaking ball was much sharper.”
In the seventh, Gutierrez allowed a leadoff double, but quickly turned things around. One batter later, he induced a groundout off the bat of Jon Jay.
The next two Cardinals hitters, Allen Craig and David Freese, were strikeout victims.
The eighth was a little smoother for the right-hander. Schumaker lined out to the third baseman Melvin Mora before Gutierrez received a fly out and another strikeout to cap off his impressive performance.
Paterson tosses scoreless ninth
Gibson called on southpaw Joe Paterson to take over the pitching duties in the ninth, and Paterson showed why he belongs at the big league level.
Paterson toed the rubber, hoping to provide a quick inning for his team.
“I felt good,” Paterson said. “I wanted to come in, throw strikes, and get us back in as quick as we can.”
Paterson struck out opposing pitcher Eduardo Sanchez to start the inning. Next up was Cardinals centerfielder Colby Rasmus, who had already collected three hits in the game.
Paterson froze Rasmus for strike three and the second out of the inning. After Daniel Descalso singled to left, Paterson ended the frame by getting Jay to hit a weak groundout back to the mound.
It was another solid outing for the D-backs’ lone bullpen lefty. Paterson entered tonight’s contest with a 0.00 ERA in five appearances.
“It was good,” Paterson said. “I shouldn’t have ever gone full count with the pitcher, but it happens. My goal was to try and get guys out pretty quick. I was glad to go out there and pitch.”
In need of some left-handed help to add to a bullpen that was starting to lean dramatically to the right, the D-backs made a pair of moves over the last two days that should ignite some good competition in Spring Training.
On the heels of re-signing veteran lefty Mike Hampton to a minor league deal, the D-backs selected Joe Paterson in the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. If you made it out to watch the D-backs prospects play for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall league, you might already be familiar with Paterson, who was there representing the San Francisco Giants. (If the above photos look strange to you then, well your instincts are correct. Paterson was loaned to the Phoenix Desert Dogs for a day to get some work and help give a day off to some Desert Dogs hurlers.)
Paterson’s effectiveness is tied as much to his funky delivery as his actual stuff as the photos here should demonstrate. And lefthanders do seem to have a great deal of trouble picking up his pitches; they hit just .216 off him this year. He’s a nice, low-risk Rule 5 pick because lefty specialists are the kind of position that can be overpaid in the free agent market relative to the finite amount of innings they pitch. And because Hampton is on a minor league deal, if he and Paterson are going neck-and-neck next March, they actually could keep both by moving Hampton to Reno out of the gate.
The focus was pretty obvious for the D-backs during these winter meetings — the pitching needed major upgrades. The team, already happy with the first four spots in the rotation (Kennedy/Hudson/Saunders/Enright) was able to take a flier on a fifth starter in Zach Duke while also adding four new pieces to the bullpen (Putz/Hernandez/Mickolio/Paterson).
“The starting pitching is better, the bullpen is better, character I think will be better, experience is better, versatility will be better,” D-backs General Manager Kevin Towers said.
“There may be less power but we scored runs last year. We scored enough runs but we just didn’t hold them, if you look at our run differential. We were about league average in offense, they just scored too many runs on us.”
Random note: Joe Paterson played college baseball at Oregon State University. He pitched on the Beavers’ 2006 National Championship winning team where he was a teammate of D-backs outfielder Cole Gillespie.