Injury slows Diamondbacks' personality makeover

BOB BAUM AP Sports Writer Published:

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Arizona Diamondbacks underwent a personality change in the offseason.

After a lot of talk, they finally traded Justin Upton, sending the 25-year-old outfielder to the Atlanta Braves, acquiring Martin Prado in the process.

The Diamondbacks gave up on that magnificent yet inconsistent talent in a bid to transform the team into a scrappy, tough, aggressive unit that relies more on contact hitting than home runs, coupled with a solid rotation and a substantially beefed up bullpen.

Unfortunately for Arizona, an injury has slowed the rebuilding plans.

One of the most important components is speedy rookie Adam Eaton, the center fielder and leadoff batter who had a tremendous spring until a slight ligament tear in his throwing arm left him sidelined for the first six to eight weeks of the season.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say that was a blow," general manager Kevin Towers said. "I mean, he's kind of an igniter. We kind of feed off his energy and the way he plays the game. A good part of putting this team together was with him in mind."

Kirk Gibson, in his third full season as manager, said he hadn't decided how he will adjust his batting order, with no obvious choice to replace Eaton at the top, especially with a leading candidate, Willie Bloomquist, expected to start the season on the disabled list after sustaining an oblique strain in spring training just five days before opening day.

But Gibson still likes the overall makeup of the team, even as he downplays the suggestion that it matches his tenacious, old-school personality.

"I think we're very versatile, just a real heady team," he said, "very engaged in the process of what it takes to win a World Series. All the stuff we've thrown at them, they've implanted it very nicely. Now as the season starts we'll have to remain on task."

Prado, stationed at third base, should combine well with second baseman Aaron Hill. Both hit well for average and both also are accustomed to batting second in the order. Hill will probably slide to the No. 3 spot.

"I've always been a two-hole hitter, but whatever works for the club," Hill said. "I mean, they bring in Martin and, I'm going to let my guard down, but he's probably a better two-hole hitter than I am. So either way it works out. Both of us don't really care. It's going to be fun the many ways we can manufacture runs anyway."

Hill won a Silver Slugger award last season, batting a career-high .302 with 44 doubles, 26 home runs and 85 RBIs. In the offseason, he signed a new contract that will earn him $40.5 million over the next four years. Prado, who hit .301 for Atlanta, also got a new four-year, $40 million deal,

In addition to losing Eaton, Arizona probably will start the season without new right fielder Cody Ross, sidelined with a calf injury. Ross doesn't expect to miss more than a few games, though. Jason Kubel returns in left field, with A.J. Pollock probably in center and Gerardo Parra in right.

First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and catcher Miguel Montero are being counted on to drive in runs as the team looks to be aggressive on the bases without the multitude of blunders that plagued the Diamondbacks a year ago. New coach Steve Sax is partly entrusted with finding a way to improve in that department.

With the versatile Bloomquist out, the shortstop job goes by default to newly acquired Cliff Pennington while top prospect Didi Grigorius, slowed by the same type of arm injury that Eaton has, hones his skills at Triple-A Reno.

Ian Kennedy, who came on strong late last season to finish 15-12 after going 21-4 in Arizona's NL West title run in 2011, will get the opening day start Monday at home against St. Louis. A slimmed-down Trevor Cahill will go second in the rotation. The third day starter is Brandon McCarthy, who is coming back from a horrific head injury, fracturing his skull and sustaining other damage from a line drive while with the Oakland Athletics last September.

Left-hander Wade Miley went 16-11 with a 3.92 ERA last season, making the All-Star team and finishing second in NL rookie of the year voting. He's been slid back in the rotation after he was shut down for a time with a dead arm in spring training. Randall Delgado, who came in the Upton trade, competed with left-hander Patrick Corbin for the fifth spot in the rotation.

Right-hander Heath Bell and lefties Tony Sipp and Matt Reynolds add to what should be a strong bullpen that returns long-innings reliever Josh Collmenter, sidearm specialist Brad Ziegler (who induced groundball 21 double plays -- most by a reliever since Doug Sisk's 21 in 1988), setup man David Hernandez and closer J.J. Putz.

Veteran infielders Eric Chavez and Eric Hinske give the team some experienced depth it lacked on the bench.

"Everyone talks about team chemistry and I know it's a cliche," Hill said, "but I'd much rather have a team full of guys who get along, are ready to go every day, hard-nosed guys, than a bunch of superstars. It's going to be a fun team to be with, a fun team to watch."

Whether that's enough to match the great pitching of San Francisco and the wealth of talent and cash in Los Angeles in the NL West remains to be seen.

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