PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks have wanted to put speed at the top of their order since they saw the impact Adam Eaton made in the final month of 2012. In the last week, they have doubled up to catch up.
Deciding the best way to make a run at the playoffs is with more speed in the lineup, the D-backs have started left-handed hitters Tony Campana and Eaton in the top two spots in the lineup in four of the last five games, and in all four against right-handed starters.
It has worked. Eaton drove in Campana with the go-ahead run in a 12-7, 18-inning victory in Philadelphia on Saturday, and the D-backs won three of the four games in which the two hit back to back. Eaton and Campana have combined for 16 hits and 12 runs in the last five games, and they have created not only more but better opportunities for production bats Paul Goldschmidt, Martin Prado and Aaron Hill.
The threat of the stolen base can cause pitchers to throw (and catchers to call) more fastballs. Many pitchers are comfortable with a slide step, a quicker delivery to the plate, but some are not, getting out of their comfort zone. Middle infielders must shade a little closer to second base to guard against the steal, and with faster runners, the offense has more opportunities to hit-and-run. Campana was running on the 0-2 pitch that Eaton lined into center field for a double in the 18th inning Saturday.
“We’ve kind of changed the makeup of our order right now,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. “We’ve got some speed guys up there, little lefties, try to get them on base and have an influence on the pitches that ‘Goldy’ and ‘Prat’ (Prado) and ‘Hilly’ and (Eric) Chavez are going to see. It has worked pretty good, and that is the way we are going to go.”
Eaton, whose spring training elbow injury scuttled the D-backs’ plans to open with him in the leadoff spot, is on his best run of the season. He is 10 for 27 with seven runs scored and three RBIs in the last five games while notching his first two stolen bases of the season.
Campana is 6 for 20 with five runs and a stolen base, and he tied a franchise record with five walks in the marathon game against the Phillies, including the one that started the two-out, 18th-inning rally.
“I know, from a defense standpoint, having two guys at the top of the lineup who can run like that, I don’t care who you are, it puts pressure on the defense,” Hill said. “You have to move up. They change the game.
“You’d love for them to hit as much as they can, but just for them putting the ball in play and putting pressure on and doing what they can do, they can wreak havoc on the base paths. It’s pretty special. They’ve been looking for a 1-2 punch. It will be interesting to see what they can do.”
Campana, obtained from the Cubs for two minor league pitchers this spring, is considered by many to be the fastest runner in the majors. He had 54 stolen bases in 184 games in two up-and-down seasons with the Cubs, and he was only caught five times.
Like Eaton the year before, Campana benefited greatly from his time with manager Brett Butler at Class AAA Reno this season. A longtime leadoff hitter in the majors, Butler was the master of little ball, the game 5-foot-8 Campana must play. The two worked on adding the bunt to Campana’s game, and he has two bunt singles in his short time here.
“When I can get on base, that’s make me a lot better of a player,” Campana said. “You have a guy like that, maybe the best bunter ever to play the game, anything you can pick up helps. Any way that I can get myself on base, I want to do that. My job isn’t to drive a bunch of guys in, it’s to score runs for the guys in the middle of the lineup. Any way I can get on base, whether it is bunting or walking or getting hit by a pitch, that’s fine with me.
“I give him a lot of credit on my bunting, and just my approach at the plate as a leadoff hitter. Coming into this year, I was maybe a little overly aggressive as a hitter. I didn’t take a lot of walks. ‘Bugsy’ (Butler) kind of showed me you can pick your spots to be aggressive and pick you spots to try to draw a walk and try to get on base that way.”
The D-backs have scored 33 runs in the four games in which Campana and Eaton have hit 1-2. It is obviously too small of a sample size to draw conclusions, but Eaton said it feels like his callup last September, when he scored 19 runs in 22 games from the leadoff spot.
“Last year, it was Hilly. It seemed like every time I got on, he would knock me in,” Eaton said.
“It’s a combination of everybody. Goldy has 100-plus (104 RBIs). Prado has been coming through like everybody knows he can. As long as we can get on base, I think that’s the production that we can have.”