The Arizona Diamondbacks announced Thursday that they were closing a chapter in their history, choosing not to bring back Luis Gonzalez, who delivered the hit that brought them their first World Series title, next season.
On Friday, the Diamondbacks will look to a player that they hope will lead them into the future when they send Brandon Webb to the mound.
Arizona’s ace makes his first start since pitching a one-hitter when he takes the ball against the Colorado Rockies in the opener of a three-game series at Chase Field.
The 27-year-old Webb (15-6, 3.00 ERA) is a candidate for the NL Cy Young Award in his breakout season, and is coming off perhaps the finest outing of his career. The right-hander, one victory shy of Los Angeles’ Brad Penny for the league lead, gave up only Scott Rolen’s double as he defeated St. Louis 3-0 on Sunday. Webb had five strikeouts, no walks and threw only 96 pitches.
“It ended up working tonight, it felt good,” said Webb, who did not allow a runner past second base and got 16 groundball outs as he relied on his overpowering sinker to earn his fourth career shutout.
“I was pretty aggressive in the strike zone as they were swinging the bat. They put the ball in play early, mostly on the ground. That worked to my favor tonight. I was able to keep the ball down so they could do so.”
Rising stars like Webb are expected to serve as the core of the Diamondbacks (69-77) after the departure of Gonzalez, the 39-year-old left fielder whose winning bloop single off New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series brought the young franchise its first title.
Gonzalez has a $10 million option that the team won’t pick up, and Arizona has no plans to re-sign him.
“Obviously, this is a very difficult day for the organization,” general manager Josh Byrnes said. “Gonzo’s done about everything you can in this market as a player and as a person.
“Change isn’t easy, but we feel very good about the cast that will continue to wear the uniform.”
Gonzalez leads the leads the league with 50 doubles and is tied with third baseman Chad Tracy, another emerging player for the Diamondbacks, for the team lead with 71 RBIs.
While it remains to be seen how the Diamondbacks will react in their first game since the announcement, Webb is likely to be focused on defeating a team he has not beaten in four straight outings. The right-hander is 6-4 with a 3.38 ERA in 14 career starts against Colorado, and a 2.67 ERA over those last four meetings, but is 0-1 in that span.
The defeat came in his last outing against the Rockies on Aug. 17, when he gave up seven runs—five earned—and eight hits in six innings of an 8-4 road loss.
The Diamondbacks avoided a sweep by Washington on Wednesday, winning 4-2. Arizona has won four of its last six games.
In a good bit of irony, the Rockies (68-78) will counter Webb on Friday with Byung-Hyun Kim (8-10, 5.37), the closer for Arizona in 2001 who blew late leads in Games 4 and 5 of the World Series that resulted in Yankees victories— eventually setting up Gonzalez’s winning single in Game 7 after the Diamondbacks took Game 6.
Kim has struggled of late, going 1-4 in his last seven starts with a 7.45 ERA. The right-hander tied his season high with nine strikeouts and pitched well through five innings against Washington on Friday, allowing one run. He couldn’t maintain it, though, giving up three runs in the sixth and getting lifted with the game tied 4-4, but Colorado went on to win 11-8.
“Basically, B.K. had two ballgames out there,” Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. “It was kind of a meltdown in the sixth, but he had one walk and nine strikeouts. I was kind of surprised at the way it turned on him.”
Kim is 0-3 with a 9.37 ERA in five games—three starts—against his former club.
Colorado hopes for a strong outing from Kim as it tries to get back on track and win for the sixth time in eight games. The Rockies lost 5-0 to San Francisco on Thursday in the decisive contest of a three-game series.