The Diamondbacks do not need a fifth starter until April 17. By then, they should know more about when right-hander Brandon Webb will return from shoulder surgery. But in truth, they cannot afford to wait.
Right-handers Dan Haren and Edwin Jackson are the D-Backs’ only healthy, established starting pitchers. The team continues to actively pursue a No. 3 or 4 starter, according to major-league sources.
Asked if such an addition is possible, one club official said, “maybe.” But a rival general manager countered, “I don’t think any team will be willing to give up that kind of pitcher at the start of the season.” The Diamondbacks are deep in infielders, and they would love to move catcher Chris Snyder, to whom they owe $11.25 million over the next two seasons. The problem is, quality starting pitchers are in short supply.
“Good luck to them,” another GM said.
One executive said Friday night that the best starter available was right-hander Chad Gaudin, whom the Yankees released after he produced a 8.68 ERA in spring training.
The Tigers are shopping left-hander Nate Robertson, major-league sources told FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi, but the Diamondbacks do not view Robertson as enough of an upgrade.
Pirates’ lefties Zach Dukes and Paul Maholm are not available. The best of the Blue Jays’ options are relievers. The Brewers considered Jeff Suppan-for-Snyder, but did not want to take on Snyder’s money for 2011.
Suppan, 35, is earning $12.5 million this season in the final year of his contract. His ERA last season was 5.29. This spring, it’s 7.71. The Brewers, however, do not expect to release him, a source said.
In the Diamondbacks’ perfect world, they would get 95 to 100 starts from Haren, Jackson and Webb, and the rest from a group consisting of right-handers Ian Kennedy, Rodrigo Lopez, Billy Buckner, Kevin Mulvey and Kris Benson.
Webb’s absence will radically alter that blueprint, leaving the D-backs vulnerable in the early part of the season, if not longer.
Their search continues.
THE PHILLIES BIGGEST FEAR
Ask Charlie Manuel about the Phillies, and he says, “I’m excited about our team. I’m concerned about our pitching.”
Managers always fret, but Manuel’s worries are also shared by his front office, particularly with closer Brad Lidge and left-handed set up man J.C. Romero all but certain to start the season on the disabled list.
The early absences of both relievers mean that right-handers Danys Baez, 32, and Jose Contreras, 38, likely will assume greater responsibility in the late innings. Both are throwing well, and could give the Phillies’ setup corps more strikeout potential.
Both also are gambles. Baez, coming off elbow surgery, threw on back-to-back days only five times last season. Contreras made five relief appearances for the Rockies, pitching out of the bullpen for the first time since 2003.
The rotation, at this point, is in slightly better shape. Left-hander Jamie Moyer allowed one baserunner in 6 2/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees on Friday night, all but locking up the fifth starter’s job.
Before that game, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins volunteered that right-hander Kyle Kendrick, the likely No. 6 starter on the depth chart, is evolving into an appealing option as well.
Manager Manuel agrees.
No longer is Kendrick relying almost exclusively on his sinker. His expanded repertoire — a better changeup and a cut fastball that bores in on left-handed hitters — allows him to finally work both sides of the plate.
“He has a stronger core, stronger thighs and hips, and he’s stronger in his lower back, too,” Manuel said. “He gets more drive off the mound, has a little bit better fastball. He’s working his changeup and (cutter). There’s improvement there, quite a bit of improvement.”
After Kendrick, though, the Phillies’ options are limited. They showed strong interest in free-agent right-hander John Smoltz, who appears headed for retirement, and continue to envision a possible reunion with righty Pedro Martinez.
“He’s going to get a job,” Manuel said. “He’s better than what a lot of people have.”
Manuel says Martinez could be good for 15 to 20 starts. Martinez made nine starts for the Phillies last season, plus three more in the post-season.
The Cubs did not include right-hander Carlos Silva in their rotation simply to prove that they received an adequate return for outfielder Milton Bradley.
Silva, team officials say, is throwing the way he did in his best years with the Twins, not the way he did after signing a four-year, $48 million free-agent contract with the Mariners.
A friend of Silva’s says the pitcher is benefiting greatly from the instruction of Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Silva also has lost about 10 pounds since the start of camp, and his reduced girth helps him get more on top of his sinker, in the opinion of one scout.
The Cubs are not about to get carried away with two impressive weeks by Silva in spring training, but they might need him in the rotation long, anyway. Either Silva or lefty Tom Gorzelanny will be dropped if lefty Ted Lilly returns, as expected, by the third week of April.
As for the Cubs’ search for a setup man, the team has scouted Jays righty Jason Frasor and lefty Scott Downs and Padres righty Luke Gregerson, but does not expect to make a trade before Opening Day.
Club officials privately are encouraged that their pitching might be better than people think.
DODGERS TURNING GREEN?
Blake DeWitt has done everything possible to win the Dodgers’ second-base job, but still could end up in Triple A if the team keeps Nick Green as an infield reserve.
Such a decision seemingly would make little sense, but teams routinely struggle with such choices when trying to accommodate players with “out clauses” in their contracts.
Green, 31, can ask for his release if he is not on the Opening Day roster. The Dodgers would want to keep him because he is more suited to back up shortstop than Jamey Carroll, who has not played the position since 2007.
The only way the Dodgers can squeeze all of the infielders onto the roster is by carrying 11 pitchers, an impractical solution. They ultimately might need to sacrifice Green and go with Triple A shortstop Chin-lung Hu if they lose shortstop Rafael Furcal for any length of time.
Green, 31, then could be snapped by the Rangers or another team looking for a utility infielder.
MORE PIES IN THE SKY?
The Yankees’ camp has been so quiet, one of the team’s biggest questions for 2010 is drawing minimal attention: Will right-hander A.J. Burnett again celebrate walk-off victories by smashing a whipped-cream pie in the face of the player who gets the game-winning hit?
“He’d better,” left-hander Andy Pettitte says, smiling. “If it’s working, you’d better not mess with it. I’m not very superstitious, but a lot of the guys are.”
Burnett, though, jokes that he would welcome some assistance from his teammates, explaining, “I’m not going to be remembered in New York just for pies, I promise you that.”
The Yankees had 15 walkoff victories last season, their highest total since they set a franchise record with 17 in 1943. They added two more in the post-season.
Their postgame celebrations became such a phenomenon, right fielder Nick Swisher recalls seeing signs in Yankee Stadium that said, “We want pies!”
Of course, there was one prominent Yankee who avoided getting “pie-d” – that noted choke artist, shortstop Derek Jeter.
“He’s not clutch,” Pettitte says, laughing. “He didn’t hit any walkoffs. He didn’t do anything to help us win last year.”
Two cousins from Hawaii both reaching the majors as Rule 5 draft picks? Could happen.
Mariners right-hander Kanekoa Texeira, trying to follow the path of his cousin, Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, has allowed only one earned run in 12 innings this spring.
Victorino twice was a Rule 5 pick, getting drafted by the Padres, who returned him to the Dodgers, and then by the Phillies, who kept him after the Dodgers declined to take him back.
The Mariners selected Texeira from the Yankees’ Double A Trenton affiliate. As a sixth grader, Texeira was a water boy for Victorino’s high-school team in Maui.
“When they called timeout, we’d run on the field with our little water buckets and hand out waters,” Texeira told the Seattle Times. “And he used to be a punk. He’d twist the caps off the water and then give it back, so that when we’d take a drink, the water dumped all over us?
“That’s B.S. He’s lying.”
“OK, I used to do that once in a while.”
DESMOND VS. GUZMAN
One of the Nationals’ regulars recently told a friend, “There’s no way they can walk into that locker room and say (Ian) Desmond is not starting at shortstop.”
Which begs the question:
What will the Nationals do with Cristian Guzman?
G.M. Mike Rizzo indicated earlier this spring that the team would not release Guzman, who is earning $8 million this season.
Guzman, coming off shoulder surgery, is playing back-to-back games this weekend for the first time this spring. If he does not beat out Desmond, he presumably would be reduced to a utility role.
“I haven’t ruled out that he’s going to be the starting shortstop,” Rizzo says. “But I’m sure with his athletic ability, his savvy on the field, that he can play several different spots.”
The Nats might find out soon.
AROUND THE HORN
•Pettitte’s arm strength is not yet where he wants it to be.
“I feel like I’m fatiguing out a little quicker than I should,” he says. “If I’m throwing 60 pitches, I feel like I’m petering out at 45. When I threw 80 my last time, I felt like I was petering out at 60.
“I feel like I’m 15 to 20 pitches behind. But I feel good. That’s the important part.”
•Some with the Dodgers are in favor of keeping right-hander Josh Lindblom, viewing him as a potential force in the bullpen in the absence of righty Ron Belisario, who remains in Venezuela due to visa problems.
But Lindblom, the Dodgers’ second-round pick in 2008, is almost certain to be demoted – his professional experience is so limited, the team is not yet required to protect him on its 40-man roster.
Righty Carlos Monasterios, a Rule 5 pick from the Phillies, appears more likely to make the club. Lindblom, 22, has pitched only 57 1/3 innings above Single A.
• First baseman Russell Branyan’s back problems will enable the Indians to keep outfielder Michael Brantley – something that one scout says needed to happen, anyway.
Brantley, the scout says, already is one of the team’s best hitters. The Indians, though, eventually could demote him to stop his arbitration clock, arguing that he needs more time to develop.
The excitement over Brantley is based on his impressive spring and his .313 batting average in 121 plate appearances last September. Neither is a strong indicator of future performance. Brantley, who turns 23 on May 15, had only a .711 OPS at Triple A last season.