D-Backs make first base move, eye bullpen help
The Arizona Diamondbacks are ready to make some changes at first base and in the bullpen as they try to remain in contention after two seasons deep in the NL West basement.
Manager Kirk Gibson said Thursday the team will call up first baseman Brandon Allen from Triple-A Reno and activate Geoff Blum from the disabled list before they host the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday in the opener of a weekend series. They will replace Juan Miranda and Wily Mo Pena on the roster.
Meanwhile, general manager Kevin Towers said help for the bullpen is the No. 1 target as the Diamondbacks look to make moves before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He refused to comment on Arizona's purported interest in Chicago Cubs reliever Kerry Wood or any other specific name.
The Diamondbacks want to make a deal, Towers said, but not at the expense of giving up the most talented prospects in their system.
Towers said he's had ''lots of dialogue with lots of GMs.''
Fill-in closer David Hernandez has converted each of his five save opportunities since J.J. Putz went down with right elbow tendinitis. Putz is expected back soon, but Arizona has received spotty performances from the rest of the bullpen.
Arizona also could tinker with the final two spots in the rotation. Gibson would only commit to the dependable trio of Joe Saunders, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson for the Dodgers series. That leaves the status of starters Josh Collmenter and Zach Duke up in the air.
Allen was among the final players cut just before opening day, losing out in a three-way fight at first base with Miranda and Russell Branyan. The team later released Branyan and platooned the left-handed hitting Miranda with Xavier Nady. Gibson wouldn't call Allen the everyday first baseman but said ''he's going to get a lot of playing time.''
The 25-year-old Allen was hitting .306 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs with Reno. Strikeouts were a big problem for him in stints with the Diamondbacks in 2009 and 2010, and he has 90 strikeouts in 304 at-bats with Reno this season. Allen also can play left field, but Gibson doubted he'd be used much there.
He was eager to do whatever was asked of him when he spoke after Thursday's workout.
''I haven't heard anything position-wise,'' Allen said, ''but I'm going to always be ready. That's Gibby's (Gibson's) motto, always be ready.''
The 38-year-old Blum has been on the disabled list all season with a knee injury after signing as a free agent. Gibson said Blum can play first as well as third, where Arizona already has Ryan Roberts and Sean Burroughs.
Miranda, the Cuban defector acquired in a trade with the New York Yankees, showed flashes of power at the plate but was batting .213 with seven homers and 23 RBIs while splitting time with Nady.
Pena livened up the team with some booming home runs and his outgoing personality in his brief return to the majors, mostly as a designated hitter in interleague play.
Gibson acknowledged the offensive production from the first base position has not been what he had hoped for.
''But we get production from many areas,'' he said. ''We don't have anybody that's got 60 RBIs or 70 RBIs but yet we have five guys over 40 RBIs. We've got guys score over 40 runs. We're second or third in runs scored in the National League.
''We score runs, so really the key to our second half is how well we pitch and how well we play defense to protect our pitchers.''
The Diamondbacks are third in the NL with 416 runs, behind Cincinnati (437) and St. Louis (433). Arizona has 102 home runs, one fewer than NL leader Milwaukee.
Putz threw a bullpen session Thursday.
''It went really well, threw maybe 30 pitches off the mound, all my pitches,'' he said. ''We'll see how it feels tomorrow.''
The next step, he said, will be an appearance in an Arizona Rookie League night game Sunday at the Diamondbacks' spring training facility in Scottsdale.
Gibson said Putz's return could be ''early next week at the earliest, but maybe we're a week away.''
After playing 16 of 19 on the road leading up to hosting the All-Star game, Arizona opens with a 10-game homestand - three against the Dodgers, four with Milwaukee and three against Colorado.