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Rebuilt D-backs counting on contact

The SportsXchange

The good news for the Diamondbacks this spring was that the outfield remake looked like a success, especially the way new center fielder Adam Eaton took to the leadoff position. The bad news: injuries shelved both Eaton and new right fielder Cody Ross, so an evaluation of the winter moves to trade six-year starters Justin Upton and Chris Young will not be immediately forthcoming.

Their play, along with that of newcomer Martin Prado, starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy and a rebuilt bullpen that could be one of the best in the division, will go a long way toward determining how far the D-backs will go in the underrated NL West, from whence San Francisco has won the 2010 and 2012 World Series. The division winner in between? The D-backs, who believe they have done enough to get back into the division conversation, even with the Giants and the no-contract-too-steep Los Angeles Dodgers under new ownership.

The D-backs moved toward Eaton, Ross and newcomer Prado (obtained from Atlanta in the Upton deal) believing it would give them a better chance to score runs when home runs were not coming, and nothing was more symbolic of the alternative style than the first three batters in the first spring training game -- double, groundout to second, RBI groundout to second.

Eaton played the way the team thought he could this spring, hitting .390 with two homers, three stolen bases and 10 RBI in 59 spring at-bats, but he felt soreness in his left elbow in drills several weeks ago and tweaked in on a throw while doubling a runner off first base on March 18. An MRI two days later showed a slight tear in the ulnar collateral ligament, the Tommy John ligament, but the D-backs said no surgery is necessary. He is expected to miss six-to-eight weeks, which would get him back at the top of the order in late May.

Ross' left calf strain was less severe, but he had only seven at-bats entering the final week of spring training, and the D-backs will not rush him. Fourth outfielder Gerardo Parra figures to get a lot of work early while Eaton and Ross recuperate.

Manager Kirk Gibson liked the way second baseman Aaron Hill produced in spring training. Do not be surprised if Hill is slotted third or fourth in the batting order come opening day, although Eaton's injury could cause a revision. Hill had a career-high 76 extra-base hits last season, primarily in the No. 2 spot, and the D-backs want a 3-4 hitter who can drive the ball, not necessarily hit home runs. Line-drive hitter Stephen Drew hit fourth much of 2011 until his July injury, and bench coach Alan Trammell also hit fourth for Detroit when he teamed with Gibson in the early 1980s.

First baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who has done nothing but hit since promoted from Double-A Mobile for the 2011 stretch drive, appears poised to continue his forward progress after hitting .286 with 43 doubles, 20 homers and 82 RBI. Hill, catcher Miguel Montero and left fielder Jason Kubel add pop to the order, and Kubel led the team with 30 home runs last season. Fourth outfielder Gerardo Parra figures to get a lot of work early while Eaton recuperates.

You might be able to win a lot of bar bets knowing that Ian Kennedy (35) has the most victories in the NL the last two seasons, and he used spring training to work on a curve ball he hopes to use more as a third pitch, as he did in a 21-win 2011. Wade Miley, a 16-game winner as a rookie last season, also looked at a curve. Newcomer McCarthy worked on a changeup to go with his two-seam fastball.

General manager Kevin Towers believes in building his pitching staff from back to front, and the D-backs believe closer J.J. Putz, former closer Heath Bell and closer-in-waiting David Hernandez will enable them to shorten games and take some of the burden off their starters.
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