D-backs' Pennington flies under radar

Offense, defense, sign language -- Cliff Pennington brings it all

Cliff Pennington's glove and arm strength make him valuable at three infield positions.

J Pat Carter / AP

PHOENIX -- The buzz accorded the Diamondbacks' middle infield these days usually centers around their stockpile of highly regarded up-and-comers -- Chris Owings, Didi Gregorius and Nick Ahmed.

Cliff Pennington believes that is fair.

"They deserve it," Pennington said. "All three of them are really good middle infielders and can play, and they all three have a chance to be great players in this game. They deserve the pub that they are getting."

As Pennington is proving, flying under the public radar can work, too.

Since returning from the disabled list, Pennington has hit .296 while playing second base, shortstop and third base in almost equal proportion. The batting approach he has spent hours refining appears to have taken, and he has proven his worth on the field and in the clubhouse as well.

Slight his future here at your own risk.

The D-backs appear sold.

"His work is paying off," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said. "It is a long process when they try to make changes in their game. He's got the greatest attitude in the world as well. He's an upbeat guy. He doesn't let anything get him down."

Pennington has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining, and it is hardly a stretch to imagine him staying here for at least one more year as the D-backs seek the right combination of parts in a fluid middle infield situation. 

They are likely to try to trade from their infield depth in the offseason in a package for a starting pitcher or outfield bat, their stated priorities, but the package is anyone's guess at this point.

"You're not human if you are not thinking about what lies ahead," Pennington said. "But I have another year of arbitration here and I fully expect to be back and playing here. And I hope I am. I love it here. I love the guys. I want to go to the playoffs and make a World Series run with the Diamondbacks."

Pennington has five multiple-hit games since Aug. 6, and he had three hits and scored four runs three days later, starting both games at third. He homered while starting in Miami on Aug. 15 and hit his first career pinch-hit homer against San Diego on Sunday. 

While the strong run may serve as a statement stretch, Pennington does not view it that way.

"Every player is trying to prove themselves and show what they can do. Right now, the way the team is put together, I've had a chance to play a little more," Pennington said.

"Obviously, trying to go out there and play well. You are trying to do that all the time. You are trying to show everybody what you can do, and prove to the management and the manager and front office that you're the guy. That's what everybody is trying to do. If we have nine guys all trying to do that, I think that is a good thing."

A switch-hitter, Pennington is hitting .266  with 10 RBI and five stolen bases. He credits his offensive improvement to swinging at strikes and having stubborn at-bats.

"I've been much better, I guess, about staying with my approach and being stubborn in it a little bit better than in the past," Pennington said. "Sometimes it is easy in certain at-bats. Maybe a pitcher pounds you in and you start looking in there and then they get you out with something soft away, and that is exactly what they are trying to do.

"Staying with the game plan from the first pitch to the last -- knowing that the majority of the time, he is going to go to this pitch or go to this location, and you are going to try to get him then -- I've been better about that part of it."

Pennington always brings his glove. He has committed one error in 49 games, and one teammate compared his arm strength to that of Gregorius.

Pennington also helps when he does not say a word. He used sign language to help David Peralta steal home in the seventh inning of a 5-3 victory over Colorado on Aug. 8. Pennington and Cody Ross noticed that Peralta was frisky, gauging his lead against Rockies left-hander Rex Brothers. Pennington motioned to Peralta that if the catcher threw the ball back in a looping motion to Brothers, he should take off. He did and he did.

"Penny is active an everything," Gibson said. "That's just the way he works. He prepares, and he spreads the wealth of information that he has. He's a great team player. He contributes when he is playing and when he is not playing. If you want to emulate a guy, he would be a great guy to watch."

DID YOU NOTICE?

Evan Marshall stranded another inherited base runner when he did not allow Clayton Kershaw to score in the seventh inning. Marshall has prevented 18 of his 19 inherited runners from scoring this season. 

STAT OF THE GAME

39 -- D-backs' outfield assists, five short of tying a team record set last season   

TAKEAWAYS

*In hockey, a Gordie Howe hat trick is a goal, an assist and a fight. D-backs center fielder Ender Inciarte had the leadoff man's version of a hat trick -- two hits, a stolen base and an assist. His 10 outfield assists are tied for the NL lead with Dodgers center fielder Yasiel Puig. Enciarte has 12 stolen bases in 14 attempts and has made it safely in his last six.

*Although Wade Miley allowed 11 baserunners in six innings, he was able to pitch out of trouble enough to record his fourth straight quality start. He gave up three runs, one coming when arch-nemesis Dodgers left fielder Scott Van Slyke hit a bases-empty homer to cap a three-run third inning. Slyke has 10 homers this season, four off Miley. "Later on, kind of found a rhythm a little bit, but it is tough," MIley said. "I made a couple of mistakes and they got what they needed."

*The D-backs were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, and neither of those hits drove in a run. Mark Trumbo spoke to the D-backs' frustration against Clayton Kershaw, saying: "We didn't do too much with him. I am not terribly pleased. The reality is he is pretty tough to do too much against. A big hit at some point would have been real nice." Trumbo was 0-for-13 against Kershaw before an eighth-inning single.

LAST CALL

Starter Archie Bradley, catcher Peter O'Brien and third baseman Brandon Drury are among the seven D-backs who will play for the Salt River Rafters in the Arizona Fall League this season. The others are outfielder Evan Marzilli and right-handed relievers Enrique Burgos, Kaleb Fleck and Jimmie Sherfy. O'Brien, obtained from the New York Yankees for Martin Prado at the trading deadline, won the hitting skills competition in the Fall League last year.

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