D-backs seek mix of aggression, intelligence

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – When it comes to aggressiveness on the bases, the Diamondbacks are not really trying anything new this spring. They are simply trying to do what they like to do better. Running into outs was a problem in 2012, and it goes without saying that D-backs need to improve there to make their somewhat-smaller-ball style work this season.

They understand. Kirk Gibson confronted the issue early in spring, when he was asked if the D-backs needed to get a little smarter in certain situations.

“Not a little smarter,” he said.

“A lot smarter.”

The D-backs are second in the National League in stolen bases this spring, among the signs that they will continue to push the envelope in Gibson’s third full season, his first without right fielder Justin Upton and center fielder Chris Young.

It is Gibby ball, necessarily refined.

“I think we have been a much more fundamentally sound team that we have been in springs of the past,” general manager Kevin Towers said. “We’re run the bases much better. We’ve moved runners. We’ve been aggressive but not too aggressive, not doing stupid things. We’ll be more aggressive than less aggressive. That is just how this team will play.”

The approach has shown in other areas this spring, too. Didi Gregorius scored from second on an infield single Monday. Miguel Montero went from first to third on a single a few days before that. Several of the D-backs’ rallies have included ground balls that either moved a runner from second to third or drove him in from third, or both. Their first run of the spring came on a double and two grounders to second base. Rookie Adam Eaton worked on base running on a back field Tuesday, and he was scheduled for another session Wednesday.

“We are willing to concede some home runs for more contact and the ability to keep the line moving in innings,” Gibson said. I feel that so far we have done that. You can see a little different type of approach.”

The lineup is more unsettled than usual this spring without Upton in the customary No. 3 hole, and the order remains a work in progress, with Aaron Hill emerging as a candidate to hit third or fourth, perhaps behind Eaton and newcomer Martin Prado. Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Montero and Jason Kubel also have middle-of-the-order capabilities.

The players see a refocus this season, not a remake.

“I don’t think it is going to be as different as people think,” said Goldschmidt, the poster boy for intelligent aggression when he tagged up from first base on a 40-foot foul popup to the catcher in Los Angeles last season. “We still have guys who can hit the ball. But we definitely have an emphasis on some of the things that we tried to do last year.

“Obviously we lost some guys that hit some power, but we are trying to improve on stuff that we didn’t do well rather that totally change ourselves. We tried to run the bases last year. There were just mistakes that were made. It is most important for us, because we can’t make a mistake and hope for a couple of three runs homers.

“Guys are always trying to move runners, but obviously we are trying to make it more of a priority. If you are going to win those close games, which we didn’t do last year and did do the year before, you need to do the little things. Every team is so talented, especially (in) this division, it’s going to come to the little things, I think, that are going to separate. We are trying to get a leg up by focusing on this.”

Gibson brought in former Dodgers teammate Steve Sax to coach first base and the running game, with an eye toward making decisions on the bases. The D-backs stole 133 bases and were caught 55 times in 2011, with those numbers representing the second-most steals in the league and a league-average success rate. Last year, they had 93 steals and were caught 51 times, a 65 percent rate. Only the Pirates had less success.

“I don’t know if we have burners on our team, but I think you to take opportunity if it is there,” Gibson said. “You work on things in case they are there, whether that is stealing a base, whether that is putting down a bunt and beating in out, whether it is me hitting and running, whether it is going first to third. ‘Miggy’ (Montero) went first to third. He’s not fast, but he had great technique. Good secondary lead, and he made it.”

The secondary lead and the proper way to turn the bases — those are the types of things that take up a morning on a back field. The D-backs worked on reading looping line drives Tuesday morning.

“Like to be aggressive. Like to take things,” Gibson said. “A lot of it is just concentration. We put the time in to mentally think our way through it so we are better prepared to make better decisions on the bases.”

The D-backs believe they are better equipped to win the division with their approach.

“Pitching and defense is going to win it,” Gibson said. “You don’t have pitching, you can’t defend. You are just picking stuff up. We know the Giants have done it that way two out of the last three years. You can see the Dodgers have strengthened themselves.”