D-backs’ slow start puts Towers, Gibson in pressure cooker
While Diamondbacks president/CEO Derrick Hall and managing partner Ken Kendrick have yet to weigh in on the Diamondbacks’ slow start, general manager Kevin Towers understands the reality of the situation.
He and manager Kirk Gibson will be judged on results, and job security is not in their control.
"’Gibby’ and I are smart enough to know that this is what you get paid to do," Towers told reporters before the D-backs (6-18) rallied to beat the Chicago Cubs, 7-5, with a five-run ninth inning on the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field on Wednesday afternoon.
"You get paid to hopefully go out and win ballgames. But I think we’re all accountable. Everybody. It’s players, it’s us, it’s coaches. We all should be wearing this right now and finding a way to turn this around."
The D-backs are off to the worst start in franchise history, in large part because of the ineffectiveness of their starting pitchers. They have three quality starts in 24 games. The offense has pressed, too. When they took an early 1-0 lead on Wednesday (which was soon squandered), it was the first time the Diamondbacks had led in 32 innings.
Wednesday’s comeback brought back memories of the 2013, when they won 42 games after trailing and led the major leagues in one-run victories (34), victories in their last at-bat (33) and extra-inning victories (17). It also was the first time since 2011 that the D-backs came overcame a deficit of at least three runs in the ninth inning or later. That came on Sept. 27, 2011, when Ryan Roberts capped his walk-off grand slam with a Kirk Gibson fist pump while running the bases.
Could it be the oomph the D-backs needed?
"I sure as hell hope so," Gibson said.
The D-backs expressed confidence in Towers and Gibson with contract extensions of undisclosed length prior to spring training, and it seemingly take something drastic to cause a quick reversal. The pair has been together since 2011, when the D-backs made a 29-game improvement from the season before to win the NL West with a 94-68 record. Gibson was voted the NL manager of the year.
Towers said he has spoken to Hall and Kendrick and understands the front office’s frustration with a team that has underachieved despite a franchise-high payroll of about $110 million, a bump of more than $25 million from 2013, when the D-backs were 81-81 for the second straight season.
"This organization has committed a lot of money … that’s what’s even more disturbing," Towers told the media. "You’ve got a payroll that exceeds $100 million, and we’re off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. That’s tough to swallow when you’re an owner and you care and you’ve invested in a product and the product isn’t performing. I’m sure they’ve grown impatient, and I don’t blame them."
Towers told reporters he remains behind Gibson, who served as the interim manager after A.J. Hinch was fired in July, 2010, before being hired full-time by Towers in the final week of that season. Towers was chosen as general manager early September of 2010, taking over for interim general manager Jerry Dipoto.
"I think the world of Gibby. He’s a fierce competitor. He cares. But ultimately, it’s how do they (the players) respond?" Towers said.
"Players may ultimately get GMs and managers fired … Our livelihood kind of lies in their hands. That’s just the truth. They perform good, we have job security. They don’t perform well, we don’t have job security. That’s probably what makes it tough on Gibby and myself. You can’t go out and swing the bat or throw a ball. You’re sitting and evaluating, watching. You try to find different ways to get it done, but you can’t go out and play the game for them."
Gibson also spoke to reporters before Wednesday’s game.
"When you don’t score runs it looks bad. When you don’t pitch, it looks bad," Gibson said. "It always will. It always has. Things are magnified when we make an error and somebody hits a home run. It looks bad. Anybody going to question anybody on our team’s attitude and dedication and how they prepare when they make an error? They better not."
The team has changed quite a few faces three years, some of it natural attrition. Roberts, Miguel Montero, Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy, J.J. Putz, Josh Collmenter, Daniel Hudson and David Hernandez had career years in 2011, but none has had the same impact since and several have moved on.
A month into this season, Paul Goldschmidt is one of two regulars hitting above .265. Newcomer Mark Trumbo has seven home runs and 19 RBIs but is hitting only .210 and appears likely to miss significant time because of a stress fracture in his left foot. Wade Miley (2-2, 4.50 ERA) has two of the three quality starts and is the only D-backs’ starter with an ERA lower than six. Season-ending elbow injuries to No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin and setup man Hernandez have not helped the staff.
"We talk about it every day. Are there people here that don’t fit?" Towers said on his radio show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM earlier Wednesday. "For the most part, they are a good group of guys, but just because you’re a good group of guys doesn’t mean you’re going to win ball games.
"It’s not like a rookie ball club, an unexperienced ball club, an old ball club … graybeards. It’s guys that are in the prime of their careers, and all of them are having down years at the same time. I think a lot of it has to do with pressing. They’ll say they’re not, but you can tell they are."
The mood was decidedly downcast in the Diamondbacks’ locker room after Tuesday night’s 9-2 loss.
"I’ve been on a few bad teams, but it’s usually been spaced out with some positivity and some rays of hope … this is just a different animal right now," right-hander Brandon McCarthy told reporters after falling to 0-4 with a 6.23 ERA.
"We’re battling ourselves," said veteran Eric Chavez, who was part of a 2001 Oakland team that started 8-18 before recovering to win the AL West.
"Regardless of who we’re playing, we’ve got to play better. We’ve kind of used up all the words in our vocabulary in our meetings, but performance is all that counts at this point. Even teams that I’ve lost on, we’ve been competitive. We haven’t even been competitive this year. It’s been tough. I’ve never seen anything like it."
"It’s a team that should be performing a lot better than they are, and it’s not like help is on its way," Towers said. "These guys are the guys who are going to have to get it done. If not, your legacy is that you were part of one of the worst teams in Diamondbacks franchise history. To me, I’ve got incredible pride. Hopefully they do, and they’re going to have to find a way to turn it around or that will be their legacy."