SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Diamondbacks were a different team after Stephen Drew suffered his season-ending injury last July 20, but the numbers suggested they coped well. When called upon, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald plan to keep it that way.
“My goal is to step my game up and continue to do what we were doing last year. I approach it as being ready to play all day every day. That’s my mentality,” Bloomquist said.
“Both me and ‘Mac’ feel that if Stephen is not ready, we will be able to pick up the slack and move us in the right direction. When he gets healthy, it will be a big acquisition. It will be like making a big trade. We certainly want him back, but we want him back healthy.”
The length of Drew’s absence is unknown. Despite Drew’s best efforts, it seems a foregone conclusion that he won’t be ready to start the season on April 6. Just how long it will take after that is the more pertinent question.
“When Stephen is healthy, it is my job and my duty to not just give him it back. I will make it difficult for ‘Gibby’ (Kirk Gibson) to keep me out of the lineup and make him find somewhere else for me to play,” Bloomquist said.
It worked when the D-backs won the NL West a year ago. They were 47-27 in games started by Bloomquist or McDonald at shortstop, including the first six games of the year, which Drew missed because of a strained abdominal muscle suffered in spring training. Bloomquist also started 22 games in left field, all before Drew’s ankle injury.
“You saw what they did last year. That’s part of being a good team, picking guys up when they get injured or things happen,” Gibson said.
It is all in a day’s work for versatile reserves such as Bloomquist and McDonald, who was acquired from Toronto with Aaron Hill on Aug. 23 to solidify the middle infield defense.
“That’s our job. That’s what we have to be ready for. You never know when something is going to happen and you are going to have to step up and carry a bigger workload than you are used to,” Bloomquist said.
McDonald had an immediate impact in his first start Aug. 24, making a graceful stop on a ball to his left before spinning to throw out Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman with two outs and runners on second and third, saving two runs in a 4-2 D-backs’ victory.
“My job is to be ready whenever they need me,” McDonald said simply.
McDonald, known for his glove, committed only one error while handling 81 chances last season, and he had a single while starting the NL West-clinching victory over San Francisco on Sept. 23. Bloomquist had only five errors in 236 chances at shortstop.
With Drew’s recovery time uncertain, D-backs general manager Kevin Towers was proactive in re-signing both Bloomquist and McDonald early in the offseason free agent period.
Leveraging his contributions last season, Bloomquist declined his side of a mutual option before the sides agreed to a two-year, $3.8 million deal Nov. 9, giving him an extra year of security in the process. McDonald had signed a two-year, $3 million deal a week earlier.
Bloomquist, who with his wife and two children makes his home in the Valley, turned down a more lucrative two-year contract from San Francisco to remain in Arizona, calling it an easy choice despite the respect he has for the Giants’ organization.
“They (Giants) threw out a very, very good offer at me. But this is my home. I’m with my family – my family off the field and my family on the field,” Bloomquist said.
“We built a pretty good bond here last year. I like what we have going. I like playing for Derrick (Hall, president/CEO) and K.T. (Towers) and Gibby. They do it right here. They care about the players. In the end, it is tough to walk away from that. I wanted to come back and finish what we started here last year. I was a part of that team, and I didn’t want to let that go just yet.”
McDonald joined the D-backs with a similar esprit de corps in mind. Toward the middle of last season, McDonald politely asked Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos to be traded to a contender. McDonald, 37, had a taste of the playoffs with Cleveland’s NL Central title teams from 1999-2001, but he had never appeared in a postseason game until last year.
“It was everything I hoped it would be. It’s a different feeling. You are feeling a little more pressure, but you are feeling you are at the top. This is where I want to be. Every game mattered a little bit more, which made it a lot of fun,” McDonald said.
“It is something that you can’t ever take for granted. You don’t know if you are ever going to experience that again. As soon as they (D-backs) expressed an interest in having me back, it was a great feeling. I enjoyed being a part of this group of players. Winning obviously helped a lot. But the players that are in this room, how well they prepared last year and how excited they all were to come to the ballpark and win together, was a lot of fun to be a part of.
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“To come back to a team that just did that and wants to finish a lot of things that we want to accomplish … our mind set is to win a World Series.”