Right now, the game of musical chairs has Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin and Randall Delgado circling to land on one chair.
That’s the number of pitchers popularly engaged to win the final spot in the Diamondbacks five-man pitching rotation. The music will play for the next five weeks until someone lands on that seat.
Yet, manager Kirk Gibson and Kevin Towers, the D-backs general manager, like to point out that the final spot may not be decided among Skaggs, Corbin and Delgado. Gibson likes to remind listeners that left-hander Wade Miley made the D-backs last spring as the 25th player and eventually worked his way into the starting rotation.
Events from spring trainings past tend to show players can emerge from the shadows and claim various starting position.
While the spotlight shines brightly on Skaggs, Corbin and Delgado for that last slot, right-hander Charles Brewer could make the ultimate decision interesting.
Brewer is coming off a double-digit win season (11-7, 5.99 ERA at AAA Reno) and, to gain the attention of the D-backs organization, put together a solid Arizona Fall League season in 2011. The biggest learning factor last season, he pointed out, was the ability to pitch low in the strike zone.
That represented a considerable leap ahead, and Brewer acknowledged, going forward, he wants to continue improving “game management” skills. While clearly aware of that fifth slot up for grabs, Brewer said he continues to work on all aspects of his mound game, and developed a great trust factor in catchers Miguel Montero and Wil Nieves.
Still, the current attention centers around Skaggs, Corbin and Delgado for the open slot in the rotation. Brewer would certainly like to toss his hat in the ring.
“I really have no control over expectations people may have for me,” Brewer said in reference the open, fifth starter. “Just go out, do the best I can and hope they have plans for me either as a starter or in the bullpen.”
During his effort Sunday against the Rockies, Brewer, out of Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, did not damage his chances to remain in contention for the final rotation spot. Retiring the first five hitters he faced, Brewer walked catcher Ramon Hernandez to break that stretch but then fanned Kent Mattes to close an impressive two innings.
Retiring five of the six hitters he faced, Brewer left a calling card that the decision for the final starter is far from made.
Perhaps his shining moment occurred when the 24 year-old fanned Carlos Gonzalez with a nasty breaking pitch down and away.
“From last season, (Brewer) made a great advancement,” said Gibson after Sunday’s game. “He gave up runs in Reno, but that’s a tough place to pitch. The ball flies out of there. (On Sunday), he threw the ball well and had good command of his secondary pitches.”
Meanwhile, Corbin did not hurt his chances of stepping ahead of Skaggs, Delgado and perhaps Brewer.
In putting together two solid innings Sunday against Rockies at Salt River, Corbin allowed a single, a walk, stuck out four and induced Colorado DH Kyle Parker to ground into an inning-ending double play in the second.
“Before the game, (pitching Charles Nagy and Gibson) emphasized fast ball command,” Corbin said. “I thought I had good fastball command and felt comfortable. At this point (in spring training), I think I’m ahead of myself. I still to work on a few things and here, I want to be more consistent with my breaking ball.”
In the end, both pitchers did not compromise their chances of joining the rotation.
“Threw well and kept the ball down,” Gibson said of Corbin. “Patrick showed good control and he’s a competitor. Both Corbin and Brewer threw well.”
While the brain trust gets the final decision, both Brewer and Corbin drew the attention of their teammates.
“It’s nice to see the young guys trust the catchers,” said second baseman Aaron Hill, who went 0-3 and walk in his spring debut Sunday. “Plus, we showed we’re capable of putting up run and maybe it’s too early to be peaking.”
That was in reference to a 14 hit attack in the Diamondbacks 8-6 victory over the Rockies before 7,478 at Salt River. That evens their spring record at 1-1.
For the game, third baseman Martin Prado led the attack with a 2-for-4 afternoon and three RBIs.
HANGING AROUND IN SPRING TRAINING
Major league managers usually play starters in pre-season games for a limited time.
The standard is two at-bats and somewhere around four innings. Because managers have the luxury if using an expanded 40 man roster as well as non-roster players, many get into a given game and Gibson likes to play as many as possible. For 2013, there’s an added bonus for the extensive use of players.
“Because of the World Baseball Classic, we’re probably use some of our minor league players,” Gibson said before Sunday’s game with the Rockies. “Getting these guys in games will make them more comfortable. Plus, we’ll see they can do so we can begin a book and a history with each player.”
Gibson said he plans to begin using minor leaguers as soon as this Tuesday afternoon against Angles in Tempe.
Overall, the Diamondbacks lose seven players to the WBC, including infielder Willie Bloomquist and pitcher Heath Bell both to Team USA, pitcher Nelson Figueroa (to Team Puerto Rico), pitcher David Hernandez (Mexico), and catcher Miguel Montero, infielder Martin Prado and outfielder Gerardo Parra, all to Team Venezuela.
LOOKING AHEAD …
The Diamondbacks play their initial spring game away from Salt River on Monday when they take on the Kansas City Royals in Surprise.
Right-hander Randall Delgado (4-9, 4.37 ERA in 17 starts with Atlanta) gets the ball from Gibson. Right-hander Chase Anderson (5-4, 2.86 ERA at AA Mobile) follows. The Royals will start lefty Chris Dwyer (5-8, 5.25 ERA in 16 starts with AA NW Arkansas).
On Tuesday, the D-backs will split their squad. Half travels to Tempe for a game with the Angels, and the other half remains at Salt River to take on Oakland.
For the rest of the week, the Diamondbacks will play Cincinnati at Salt River Wednesday, take on the Reds Thursday at Goodyear, and play the Cubs in Mesa on Friday.
Next weekend, they are home at Salt River to engage the Rangers Saturday and then take on the Giants Sunday in Scottsdale Stadium.