PHOENIX – It is only a small stretch to believe that we might have seen Chris Young’s last start in a Diamondbacks home uniform Tuesday.
It is far from a certainty, of course, but it cannot be ignored.
When Young was forced to leave the D-backs’ 3-2 victory over San Diego after aggravating his right quadriceps injury two pitches into the game Tuesday, the possibility hung in the air.
For one, it took Young 14 days to return to the lineup after suffering the injury Sept. 3 in San Francisco, and the regular season has 15 days left to run.
In the greater context, both Young and Justin Upton said last week they believe the D-backs will trade from their outfield strength this offseason because of the depth not only here but on the way – expect A.J. Pollock to arrive Wednesday after winning the Triple-A championship with Class AAA Reno on Tuesday night.
All-Stars Young and Upton would generate a lot of interest if they hit the market, Upton more so than Young, and rookie Adam Eaton has fit nicely into the leadoff hole. While it is a limited sample size, some in the organization believe Eaton can carry his minor league success into the majors. He can play any outfield position, although he is probably best suited for center.
Young was asked if he were concerned that the injury might prevent him from starting again this year.
“A little bit,” he said.
“You never know. It’s getting late in the year. We tried to push it today and it didn’t work out well, so we just kind of have to see day by day how it feels and try to test it again.”
Young had been limited to three pinch-hit appearances before starting in center last night, with Eaton opening in left to give Jason Kubel a day off. Young expects to have tests done again Wednesday, although said the quad felt “pretty much the same” as after the initial injury.
He lasted just two pitches into Ian Kennedy’s 14th victory of the season. San Diego leadoff man Everth Cabrera lofted a 1-0 pitch to deep left-center field, and Young tracked it down on the run. He checked up after he caught the ball,saying later that he felt the quad grab when he made a quick, hard step to go after the ball. Young held his hand over his head after making the catch, signaling the dugout he could not continue. Eaton moved to center field, where he is likely to remain for the short term, and Gerardo Parra entered the game in left.
“It’s extremely frustrating. I’ve been practicing every day to get back to right, but game speed is just a little different,” said Young, who is set to make $8.5 million on the final year of his contract in 2013.
The D-backs want to take a good long look at Eaton the rest of the way, and Young’s unfortunate injury will give them a better chance. Eaton walked twice and was hit by a pitch Tuesday, scoring the first run in a two-run first inning after walking and stealing second base. He saw 23 pitches in four plate appearances in his 11th consecutive game hitting leadoff.
Eaton is hitting .268 without an RBI, and after a hot start he has one hit in his last 16 at-bats. But he has walked seven times and been hit by a pitch in the last four games, and his on-base percentage is .423. That fits the job description.
“I like Eaton at the top,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “He’s young. So far he’s done pretty good. The curiosity is, is he a leadoff hitter? Is he a guy who can be up there and be disruptive and get on base for us? He’s fine. But he has a lot to learn.”
“We’ve had four really good outfielders (Upton, Young, Kubel, Parra) all year. Now we have an additional one with Eaton. We want to see the difference in our lineup when he is in there. He’s very creative. He understands what his duty is. He just has to refine it. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been playing him.”
The D-backs remained 4 ½ games behind St. Louis for the NL’s second wild card after the Cardinals beat Houston, 4-1. The Cardinals play five of their next eight games against Houston, and the other three are against the Chicago Cubs.
After a blip on the radar screen in the last meeting, Kennedy got back to what he has done throughout his career, beating the Padres. He is 7-1 with a 2.79 ERA against them in 11 career starts, the only loss coming at Petco Park 2 ½ weeks ago.
Kennedy, who has won eight of his last 11 starts, changed his pitching pattern from that outing and threw more off-speed pitches early. He threw 30 pitches in the first inning and gave up a run, but his command returned as the game went on. Kennedy retired 12 of the final 15 batters he faced, and one of those runners was erased on a double play. He used only 10 pitches in the fifth inning, eight in the sixth and 10 more in the seventh. He was making his second straight start on six days’ rest.
“He’s like he was last year, pretty much,” said catcher Miguel Montero, who had RBI doubles in the first and fifth innings.
“He’s aggressive now. You see his ‘velo’ (velocity) up. He has command of his secondary stuff. He has been able to throw it for a strike. That’s big. It’s not like they can sit on a fastball because he can’t locate the breaking ball. Right now, he can throw every pitch for a strike.”