Owings: First priority, second base
PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks are field-testing the long-held theory that if you can play shortstop you can play second base and third base, too.
Chris Owings is the latest under the microscope.
Owings, who opened the season as the team’s shortstop, has made all 13 starts at second base since being activated from two months on the disabled list on Sept. 2, with Didi Gregorius seeing most of the time at shortstop.
The movement has hardly stopped there. Gregorius also played second base and third base this season. Aaron Hill shifted to third base in this month after a career spent mostly at second. Cliff Pennington has played all three spots, and prospect Nick Ahmed played both second and short at Triple-A Reno this season.
It is all part of the D-backs’ attempt to define infield options for 2015 in an organization that suddenly is stacked up the middle after having little depth there as recently as three years ago.
"We do think it is helpful" to be versatile, Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said.
How 2015 plays out is anyone’s guess, of course.
Will Hill, owed $24 million, over the next two seasons, return?
Is Southern League MVP Jake Lamb ready to take over at third base?
Will slick-fielding Gregorius develop enough plate presence to support regular playing time?
Will the D-backs offer Pennington arbitration in his final season of eligibility?
Is Ahmed ready for a promotion after hitting .312 in the Pacific Coast League and playing his plus-plus defense?
And the over-riding question, which if any of those will the D-backs use as potential trade pieces for a starting pitcher or another outfield bat in the offseason?
Chief baseball officer Tony La Russa and his soon-to-be selected general manager will make those calls during the winter.
Until then, the D-backs will tinker as the players try not to read too much into it.
"I think we are all trying to go out and do the best we can and give ourselves a chance to have a spot next year," Pennington said. "Obviously, we don’t know any answers. You don’t have any control over it. When you are human it pops into your head, but at the same time if you are dwelling on it you are not going to play well right now. We all try to do the best we can on the days we are given. Those chips will fall where they may next year."
Owings, who missed nine weeks with a separated shoulder suffered on a collision at the plate when trying for an inside-the-park home run June 20, appears to have made the transition to second base well.
Showing a shortstop’s range, Owings went far to his left to field a ground ball by San Diego third baseman Yangervis Solarte in the ninth inning Friday before setting himself and throwing out Solarte at first. Owings has not committed an error in 103-plus defensive innings, finding the most difficult part of the transition is learning how to handle the bag on a double play.
"From short, guys are coming at you. You can see them for the most part, so you know where to go," Owings said. "Here, it’s all about learning where the throw is going to be, learning your third baseman and shortstop. Getting to the bag and being comfortable with it is the biggest difference."
Accepting the throw requires the kind of easy athleticism that comes naturally to all who have played shortstop. He has worked with Alan Trammell and Dave McKay on the finer points.
"It’s more about going with the throw, and not setting yourself into one particular position where you are going to get drilled over there," he said.
Owings’ offensive game appears certain to keep him in the lineup somewhere. He hit .313 in April and was slashing .283/.320/.461 with 15 doubles, six homers and 20 RBI at the time of his injury. Despite his long absence, he remains tied with teammate Ender Inciarte for fifth among NL rookies with 15 doubles. He is third with six triples and tied for fifth with eight stolen bases. His 1.8 WAR (wins above replacement player) is third in the league, according to FanGraphs
As to what 2015 brings, Owings is content to let whatever happens happen.
"If second is where I’m going to play next year, I’m happy for it," Owings said.
"I don’t care. It really doesn’t matter. As long as I am out there and competing, that’s all that really matters."
A.J. Pollock is stealing runs again. After Mark Trumbo struck out on a pitch in the dirt, Pollock broke from third and scored when catcher Andrew Susac threw to first base to retire Trumbo. Pollock took off when Susac released the throw and beat first baseman Buster Posey’s return throw with a slide. "Two bad throws, and we stole a run," manager Kirk Gibson said.
6 — Consecutive games in which Ender Inciarte has led off with a hit. The first two were doubles, the last four singles.
*Left-hander Andrew Chafin pitched in and out of trouble in his second major league start while limiting the Giants to two runs on three hits. Two of his four walks hurt — Andrew Susac scored after walking with two outs in the second inning, and Juan Perez walked to add another baserunner when the Giants scored again in the fifth. "I have to work on my command a little bit," Chafin said. "I have to cut down on those walks. It’s all about fine-tuning mechanics." Chafin had his first hit and his major league RBI.
*Inciarte continues to look good in the leadoff spot. He has led off the last six games with hits and has reached base in 59 of the last 65 games as the leadoff man. Inciarte, who is hitting .281 when leading off, leads NL rookies with 80 hits since June 24.
*Addison Reed had either pitched or gotten hot in five of the last six games, and it was apparent he did not have his best stuff, walking two and giving up two singles in the ninth inning. "He just didn’t have it today," Gibson said.
*Mark Trumbo played through back soreness that finally forced him to leave in the eighth inning. "Just a spasm," Trumbo said. He was not himself, striking out four times.
Dependable setup man Oliver Perez has not pitched since facing one batter Saturday and may get a few more days off to deal with a dead arm, Gibson said. "Give him a few more days to liven his arm," Gibson said. "It’s not hurt, just got not much (velocity) coming out. He hit a wall." Perez, who has made a career-high 65 appearances, is 3-4 with a 2.86 ERA in 56 2/3 innings. He has 70 strikeouts against 21 walks.