PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks remodeled their team to feature depth and versatility over the winter. Now they have another unexpected, unwanted chance to show it off.
D-backs second baseman Aaron Hill on Tuesday became the fourth starter and fifth key position player component to be placed on the disabled list this season when an MRI taken the day before showed a broken bone in his left hand. Shortstop Didi Gregorius was activated to replace him.
The injury means the D-backs will turn to Martin Prado, Cliff Pennington and/or Josh Wilson at second base, and it also means they must wait until June to put their eight projected starters on the field for the first time this season. Prado started at second against the New York Yankees on Tuesday, the first game of the D-backs’ nine-game road trip that includes stops in Colorado and San Francisco.
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“This team is resilient. They’ve already showed you that,” D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said Sunday, when he was asked about the possibility of Hill going on the disabled list.
The D-backs did not announce a time frame for Hill’s return, but it is likely to extend into June. Milwaukee catcher Jonathan Lucroy missed two months after he broke his right hand when a suitcase fell on it last May.
“It is really unfortunate to lose not only a talented baseball player but a tremendous teammate in Aaron Hill for the near future,” D-backs general manager Kevin Towers said in a prepared statement.
“We are confident that the depth we have in the middle infield will serve us well while Aaron recovers.”
Hill was hit by a pitch on the top of the left hand from Pirates’ right-hander James McDonald in the fifth inning last Tuesday and made only one start since, on Sunday, although he was forced to leave that game after one at-bat because of continued soreness. X-rays taken at the time of the injury and again Sunday showed no break, the D-backs said, before the MRI found one.
Hill, 31, was the NL Silver Slugger winner at second base last season, when he hit a career-high .302 with 44 doubles, 26 home runs, 85 RBI. He is hitting .306 with three doubles, two homers and six RBI in 10 games this season.
“I was very disappointed when I learned the extent of my hand injury,” Hill said in a statement. “I am going to take some time off from baseball activities to let the break heal before starting the rehab process. I am committed to do everything in my power to return to the lineup as soon as possible.”
Hill joins outfielders Adam Eaton and Jason Kubel and infielder Willie Bloomquist on the disabled list. Eaton is not expected to return until mid- to late-May after suffering a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow in spring training. Kubel could be back by the end of April after suffering a left quadriceps injury while running the bases in Milwaukee on April 5. Kubel was placed on the disabled list Saturday, when Cody Ross was activated. Ross missed five weeks with a left calf strain suffered the first week of March.
Bloomquist, a logical candidate to get playing time at second base if he were healthy, suffered a right oblique strain the last week of spring training. He is expected to begin hitting this week and play in extended spring training games next week, so he is not a short-term solution.
Like Ross, Gregorius opened the season on the disabled list with a strained left elbow ligament, the same injury Eaton later suffered. Gregorius has been hitting as a designated hitter for about a month, and he played his first game in the field at Class AAA Reno on Monday night, going 1 for 5. He hit .387 with two doubles and two homers in seven games for the Aces.
Prado was acquired in the Justin Upton deal to be the starting third baseman, but he has played left field because of the injuries to Eaton, Ross and now Kubel. He played second base last Saturday and Sunday, shifting there after other player moves. He has played 209 games in the outfield, 193 at second base and 153 at third base in his eight major league seasons.
“We’ll wait and see,” if Prado becomes the regular second baseman, Gibson said on Sunday. “The thing you are apprehensive about, he didn’t take many reps there. But you can see the way he plays. He is a very athletic guy.”