CHICAGO — As much of a blow as it was for the D-backs to lose third baseman Eric Chavez to an oblique strain, the injury created an opportunity for catcher Miguel Montero.
Montero, still working out of a season-long slump, slid into Chavez’s cleanup spot in the batting order Friday, and the D-backs are hoping the move can help jumpstart Montero’s season.
“I think we just have to give him an opportunity,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “At some point, he has to perform. The team needs him. He hit for us there last year. He’s capable of doing it.”
In the cleanup spot for 47 games last season, Montero hit .254 with 27 RBI, five home runs and a .365 on-base percentage. Before Friday, Montero had hit cleanup 19 times this season, going 12 for 73 (.165) with seven RBI.
Through the last two games, the results have been trending upward for Montero. He tallied two hits in a loss Friday, including a double that drove in one of the D-backs’ two runs. In the D-backs’ 12-4 win Saturday, Montero brought his batting average above .200 for the first time since May 11. He singled twice and walked twice as part of a 2-for-4 night, giving him back-to-back multi-hit games for the first time this season.
Two games is obviously a very small sample size, and a week’s worth of games in the cleanup spot should give a better indication of how Montero is taking to the opportunity, but Montero said he felt better on Friday.
“I just stopped thinking and stopped trying and just let it happen,” Montero said. “I stayed nice and relaxed — see the ball, hit the ball. It was good today. Hopefully I get my confidence back and hopefully get a spark.”
Montero could really get going once first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the No. 3 hitter in the order, starts hitting again. In the two games hitting ahead of Montero, Goldschmidt has gone 2 for 9 with four strikeouts, though he did hit the go-ahead grand slam Saturday.
That relationship works both ways, though. If Montero starts hitting, he gives Goldschmidt protection to keep hitting like an MVP candidate.
“We’ve got to get somebody going,” Gibson said. “Somebody’s got to hit behind Goldy. Somebody’s got to take responsibility.”
While Montero has handled the D-backs pitching staff as well as he ever has, the team expected Montero to be a run producer in the middle of the lineup. He has performed well below expectations, tallying just three home runs and just nine extra-base hits so far.
Montero has always held that he focuses more on his duties as the D-backs’ catcher, but he has also admitted this season to being disappointed in himself and letting his struggles build up amid his frustration.
“You try to hard, you worry too much, you don’t want to fail,” Montero said. “You want to do good. None of us want to go out there and not be good.”
The D-backs have weathered Montero’s slump — as well as limited production from Cody Ross, Jason Kubel and Martin Prado — in large part because of surprise production from players such as Chavez and rookie Didi Gregorius. With Chavez’s production — he was hitting .325 with seven home runs and 25 RBI in 38 games — taken away for the time being, the need is greater for a productive cleanup to emerge.
Montero knows someone has to step up, and he’d like to be that guy.
“Obviously I just want to get my bat started, and once it gets started good things can happen and I can help the team win.
“(Chavez) is a big part of our lineup. It’s unfortunate what happened, but it is what it is. We’ve got more guys here and we’ve got to step it up and do our job.”