PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks juggled their middle infield multiple times this season, and the experimentation is not about to stop now.
Starting second baseman Aaron Hill likely will see much of his playing time at third base over the final month, manager Kirk Gibson indicated Sunday in what seemed to be the natural extension of Saturday’s news that Chris Owings will be used at second base when he returns from a rehab assignment at Triple-A Reno.
"Those young kids will probably play most of the time in the middle of the diamond" the rest of the year, Gibson said, referring to Owings and shortstop Didi Gregorius.
The news did not bother Hill much on Sunday, when he had two hits and scored a run in a 7-4 loss to San Diego.
Hill understands moves at this time of year are about getting a read on the 2015 roster, and he said after conversations with Gibson that he is fully onboard, even though he has not played third base since filling in for an injured Corey Koskie in Toronto during his rookie season in 2005.
"It will be fun. Challenging. Something kind of different," Hill said.
The move not only will create more playing time for Gregorius and Owings but it also will enable the D-backs to evaluate Hill at third base, where rookie Jake Lamb is considered the heir apparent and also is expected to get the majority of the time the rest of the season.
The shift is just another indication that infield is fully stocked just two years after there were concerns about depth. Handyman Cliff Pennington, who hit a pinch-hit home run Sunday, also is in the mix for a reserve infield spot as he enters his final season of arbitration eligibility in 2015, and shortstop Nick Ahmed has shown well at Triple-A Reno this season.
The D-backs are on record as saying they will seek an outfield bat and more starting pitching in the offseason, and it is logical to trade from depth. The shift of Hill, however extensive, will enable them to get a fuller read on the possibilities ahead.
"We have all of these middle infielders, these young guys … it’s just the way it is when you are trying to see what we are going to do next year," Hill said.
"If I’m a part of that, and I’m hoping so, whether it’s keeping the young guys or trading whoever, it’s just the big picture. I understand that. I told them I get it. We didn’t have the season that we were expecting, so at this point that is just the way it goes. You have to look to next year and see what these guys can do. He told me I was going to get more time off so these guys are doing to be playing more."
Hill may not be having the season he hoped, but he still is third on the team with 10 homers runs and 55 RBIs while hitting .243. Hill is third in homers and RBIs among NL second basemen.
He was a candidate to be traded at the July 31 non-waiver deadline, but the D-backs received the barest of nibbles while managing to move Martin Prado and Gerardo Parra and save about $34 million. Hill’s contract was an impediment. He is owed $24 million through 2016, and it is possible the D-backs would have to accept some of that salary if they were to move him over the winter.
As anyone, Hill wonders what the offseason will bring.
"It’s human nature to think about what is going on," said Hill, 32. "At the same time, you can’t control any of that. Just go play, see what these guys got, see what happens."
Owings played his third rehab game at Reno on Sunday and could arrive in the near future. He is hitting .277 with 15 doubles, six homers and 21 RBIs in 72 games, and he was on a pace that made for Rookie of the Year consideration until a left shoulder injury sent him to the disabled list on June 30. Owings committed 11 errors, and most scouts believe that Gregorius is a better defender at shortstop. Gregorius, who also has played second base this season, is hitting .213 with six homers, 20 RBIs and five errors in 54 games.
"We’ve seen ‘C.O.’ play shortstop and he’s played some second base in spring training. So we are going to put him over there and see how he does at the next level," Gibson said.
"We know Aaron can play second base. I want to have flexibility, as always, to move guys around. That’s what we are thinking about in doing some things. We are going to see guys moving all around when rosters expand."
Center fielder Ender Inciarte went a long way to reach Yasmani Grandal’s fly ball to the 413-foot sign in right center field in the first inning. Inciarte slid on the warning track to make the catch, taking at least a double away.
5 — San Diego runs on two swings, on a three-run home run by Grandal and a two-run homer by Will Venable
* Miguel Montero has had his way with San Diego this season. He was 4-for-9 with a homer in the series, and his two-run single off Ian Kennedy extended his hitting streak to nine game against the Padres this season. He is 11-for-32 with 10 RBIs against them this season. The teams play seven more times.
* The pitch Padres first baseman Yasmani Grandal hit for a three-run home run in the fifth inning was at least shoulder-high, maybe higher, but he said he was looking for a fastball there because D-backs right-hander Chase Anderson had walked three batters in the inning. "It wasn’t a strike," Grandal said. "That’s what I was kind of going for, to get something up in the zone to see if I could drive it. Even if it is up, you can get to it. Unless you got Chapman (Cincinnati closer Aroldis) throwing."
* Jake Lamb had a sharp single to right field and scored in the sixth inning, and he would have had another single in the seventh had not Yangervis Solarte made a rangy play to his left to catch a hard grounder to his left.
* Cliff Pennington’s pinch-hit homer in the eighth was the first of his career. He is hitting .320 since returning from the disabled list Aug. 6 after missing 10 weeks with a fractured left thumb.
*Ian Kennedy, 10-11 with a 3.75 ERA after the victory Sunday, said the move to San Diego was a good thing after spending a struggling seven-win season with the D-backs and Padres in 2013. "I fell like I’m closer to back where I was," said Kennedy, who was 21-4 with a 2.88 ERA here in 2011. "It was nice to Darren (Padres pitching coach Balsley) look over me. Just getting another set of eyes. Pitch selection, mechanical (adjustments) I love it."
A.J. Pollock was 1 for 4 with a single and two RBI in a rehab game at Triple-A Reno on Saturday, his first game back in Reno after taking almost a week off because of swelling in his injured right hand. Pollock has been on the disabled list since June 1 with a fractured fourth metacarpal in his right hand, and his rehab was interrupted after he was hit by a pitch in a rookie Arizona League game in early August. "That was the thing that set me back," Pollock said. "I wanted to make sure when I was playing here (majors), I was right." Pollock tried to play through the increased swelling his first time in Reno before taking time off.