PHOENIX — Their Gerardo Parra bobblehead dolls safely stashed away, some in the Chase Field crowd seemed dismayed when Chris Young was called on to pinch-hit for Parra on Saturday night. They might not have liked it, but they could have seen it coming.
Do not get manager Kirk Gibson started on the “p” word. He does not buy into platoons. But it is as good as any way to describe the Diamondbacks’ center field situation these days.
The D-backs have alternated Parra and Young over the last three weeks based almost solely on the throwing arm of the opposing pitcher. Young has started the last nine games in which the D-backs faced a left-hander, and he walked in his pinch-hit appearance against a lefty Saturday. Parra has started 10 of the last 11 games against right-handers. It is new for Young, who has been the full-time starter since 2007 except for a short return to the minor leagues in 2009, but he is adjusting.
A cursory look at the numbers suggests that is the way to play it, at least until circumstances change. At the same time, Gibson looks at it as a way to keep his outfielders fresh during the D-backs’ busiest stretch of the season. They are scheduled to play 53 games in 55 days after the All-Star break, with 30 of those games on the road.
“They are tough decisions to make, but we do what is right for the team. It’s tricky sometimes, but I do the best I can,” Gibson said.
Young had a double and a walk and scored two runs while hitting leadoff Sunday against Nationals left-hander Ross Detwiler, his first start of the three-game weekend series against Washington. Young is hitting .264 against lefties this season, .180 against righties. Parra’s splits are about the same from the other side: He is hitting .288 against right-handers and .226 against lefties.
“I try to keep everybody involved. It’s the same plan,” Gibson said. “Obviously, if I am going to play one or the other, ‘G’ is going to be better against a righty than C.Y. is at this point of the season.”
For Parra, who won the left field job last May but became the fourth outfielder again when the D-backs signed Jason Kubel over the winter, it is an opportunity to get back on the field more regularly.
“C.Y. knows the situation. I know the situation,” Parra said. “I’ll be ready when they put me in the lineup. C.Y. told me last week when you are put in the lineup, play hard. I feel good. C.Y. feels good, too.”
Young finds himself in a more unusual position. He has missed 10 starts since the All-Star break after being held out of the starting lineup only 16 times in 2010 and ’11 combined. He has started at least 148 games in four of the last five years, missing extended action only when he returned to Reno for a brief stint in 2009.
Playing time in center probably never would have been an issue if not for a right shoulder injury that disrupted Young’s season just when it was getting started. He had five home runs and 13 RBIs in his first 11 games before suffering a slight tear in a right shoulder ligament when he collided with the left-center fence while making a catch April 17. The D-backs hustled him back early — he was a willing participant — and he has been unable to regain that touch. He is hitting .173 since coming back in mid-May.
“That (injury) is the one thing I wish would never had happened,” Young said. “Ever since I’ve come back, it’s been an up-and-down performance, up-and-down playing time. It gets to the point where your mentality changes a little bit. You realize you are not in there every day. So when you get in there, you want to do something good. You want to make some things happen.”
That probably had as much to do as anything with Young’s first career ejection last week, when the frustrations of a long season boiled to the surface in a 7-6 loss in Pittsburgh. Young was kicked out of the game after throwing his bat down at the plate while arguing a called third strike on a pitch that appeared a good few inches inside. Gibson used a bear hug to keep Young away from home plate umpire Larry Vanover, and Young continued to argue as he returned to the dugout.
The D-backs trailed by a run but had the bases loaded with two outs at the time, the kind of situation in which production could lead to more playing time.
“My emotions definitely got the better of me, but I’m sure there were some things built up in there,” Young said. “It all kind of ties in together, I guess. You understand that if you come through in that situation, maybe you’ll get the opportunity to carry it over and play in more games.
“You are trying to find a groove quicker because you don’t have game after game after game to get the feel back. You have a couple of games here and then two off. Parra is going through the same thing as well. I completely understand that. If that is what you are dealt, you have to find a way to make an adjustment. If you get a game to make an adjustment, you have to find a way to make that adjustment. That’s just the nature of the game, the nature of the business.”
So Young and Parra check the lineup card every day, although these days knowing the starting pitcher may be enough. The D-backs are scheduled to face three right-handers in St. Louis beginning Tuesday, although it seems hard to imagine Young not in the lineup at all in that series. He is 5 for 13 in his career against Kyle Lohse, the Cardinals’ scheduled starter in the final game Thursday.
His motto these days: Be prepared.
“I just try to keep the character that I have always had, put the same work in that I always have and stay in a positive state of mind. If I play in a game and don’t get any hits, try not to stress out about it. If I get a couple of hits, just build off it and continue to support my teammates,” Young said.
“We’re playing great baseball. We’re in a playoff race, so it is always fun to be part of a team that is doing that.”