D-backs' Saunders, Young coming on strong
PHOENIX – Joe Saunders did not want to go on the disabled list. Chris Young did not want the occasional day off. It is the way they, like most athletes, are wired. As it has turned out, however, the Diamondbacks seem stronger for the enforced layoffs.
Saunders made his third consecutive quality start since returning at the All-Star break in a 6-2 victory over Colorado on Tuesday, their fifth straight victory, and Young seems more comfortable in the batter's box by the day, hitting a two-run homer and reaching base all four times.
It was manager Kirk Gibson's plan all along.
"You have to understand – guys like ‘C.Y.' and Joe, they are very manly, and they have a lot of pride, and they have a huge ego, and they are very determined. They don't want to act like they are running from everything. I get it, OK? They are about half as bad as I was," Gibson said.
"Because I was like that, I guess I understand what the other way can do."
Saunders, who tied a career-high with nine strikeouts in seven innings, was so ticked off – Gibson's phrase – that he sought out Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers to them know wrong-headed it was to disable him because he could not get loose for a June 22 start. The diagnosis was inflammation, and it would go away.
Young, similarly, was given a little more time off – there was no platoon, but Gerardo Parra saw more action in center field – and was even pinch-hit for several times against right-handed pitchers while working his way back from a shoulder injury.
"We try to do what is best for the team and the organization, period. I'm pulling for everybody here, and what's best for the team in the long run," Gibson said.
Saunders has made six consecutive quality starts, tying his best single-season run, and except for a pair of bases-empty home runs by Michael Cuddyer was in complete control Tuesday. He walked only one with stuff that stayed sharp throughout. Saunders hit 90 mph with his last pitch of the game, striking out third baseman D.J. LeMahieu, and had command of his curveball.
Saunders has been working with pitching coach Charlie Nagy on the curve in his last few bullpen sessions, and the results spoke for themselves. He got five of his third strikes with the pitch, bending it in in the 73-75 mph range.
"I've been working on staying back and staying through it and staying on top of the baseball, and it's been pretty good for me the last few starts," Saunders said.
Saunders has given up only 15 hits while striking out 18 in his 19 innings after returning from the disabled list. While missing time was not particularly palatable, it has worked out.
"Every break you get is nice, but I kind of pride myself on not taking breaks during the season. It was unfortunate that it happened, but I think it is better in the long run," he said.
Saunders' success typifies what the rotation has done lately. No D-backs starter has given up more than three earned runs in the last seven games, and the D-backs have won six.
"It was just a matter of keeping us close. If the starting rotation can do their job, it makes life easy," Saunders said.
The D-backs (49-48) are one game over .500 for the first time since June 30, and their offense has given the starters plenty of support. Stephen Drew and Willie Bloomquist doubled in runs in a two-run fourth inning to overcome a 1-0 deficit, and Young's long home run with two outs in the fifth made it 4-1. Miguel Montero had a two-run single in the seventh.
Young singled and walked twice in addition to hitting his 11th home run, and he has four doubles and three homers while hitting safely in eight of his last nine games.
"He's coming on. It's a tribute to him. He was also mad about the whole deal," Gibson said of the fact that Young was given some extra time off.
"Understand it. But I really feel like we did the right thing to get him to work his way out of pressuring himself and pressing too hard and giving him some time to work on it and giving him little bits and pieces to where he is starting to built into it and get his momentum. He's getting his confidence back. You see him taking pitches.
"If they hang a pitch, it's gone."
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