MESA, Ariz. — The high leg kick and flowing locks of blonde hair were in midseason form, but the right arm wasn’t quite there — at least not yet.
Making his first start of the spring Thursday afternoon, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander Bronson Arroyo pitched three innings with mixed results in a 5-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, a former foe of his in the National League Central.
Arroyo, who signed a two-year, $23.5 million deal with Arizona back on Feb. 7, immediately found himself in trouble after allowing a stand-up triple to Chicago second baseman Emilio Bonifacio two pitches into the afternoon.
One batter later, third baseman Luis Valbuena plated Bonifacio with a harmless one-hopper to Paul Goldschmidt.
The Cubs would add a base hit on a sharp liner to right field by All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro, but the 37-year-old settled down from there getting first baseman Anthony Rizzo to ground into an inning-ending double play.
For Arroyo, the twin killing seemed to briefly turn the tide, as he pitched a scoreless second frame that featured two first-pitch pop-outs in the infield.
The 14-year veteran did everything right against the first three batters he faced in the bottom of the third, but an inning-ending strikeout of Valbuena went for naught after the off-speed pitch fluttered away from catcher Miguel Montero and into the dirt by the D-backs’ dugout.
Castro, who came into the Cactus League affair with six career hits off of Arroyo in 27 regular season at-bats, promptly followed with his second knock of the day, an RBI double into the right centerfield gap, to put the Cubs on top 2-0.
“It felt as it usually does [in the first start of spring training], like a fish out off water,” said Arroyo, who allowed one earned run and three hits in the Cubs Park opener. “You try to get comfortable and figure some things out. I felt pretty average, not horrible but not great. You try to throw strikes and get a feel for your body. Get your legs underneath you and see how that extra stride length feels and making sure things aren’t hurting or killing you. And just try to build on that.”
While Arroyo admitted that he’s already found a level of comfort inside the D-backs’ locker room, Thursday’s appearance was as much about his battery mate as it was about him.
“It was about him seeing my style,” Arroyo said of Montero. “That strike three that got away [in the third inning], he hadn’t seen my breaking ball get that sweepy. Those are the type of things that he needs to see a little bit, so those kind of things don’t happened that often.”
Outside of the one that managed to elude Montero’s grasp, Arroyo didn’t struggle to locate his repertoire of pitches, walking only one while throwing first-pitch strikes to nine of 13 batters faced.
“Results honestly at this point in my career don’t mean a whole lot, unless you continue to get absolutely killed out there,” said Arroyo. “It’s more about just feeling your arm, starting to build on strength, feeling you have command of your pitches and having the ball move the way you want it to. And like I said, just getting used to Miguel behind the plate.”
Although to Arroyo the results played second fiddle to throwing in a competitive atmosphere, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson came away pretty impressed after his first true glimpse of the free agent acquisition.
“He was good,” D-backs skipper Kirk Gibson said. “I think he got tired at the end. He was right around 43 pitches. I asked him and he told me he was starting to get a little tired. But we dropped that ball there and made him extend a little bit.
“It was a good day, three innings and 43 pitches. He just has to get his arm strength built up. He’s a big feel guy, so he needs to be able to throw the ball from all different angles and different release points. But it was a good first outing.”
One exhibition appearance does not make or break an impression, but after recording a start with a new team for the first time since 2006, Arroyo did reveal that he is partially pitching in ‘prove it’ mode leading into the 2014 campaign.
Though not concerned with whether or not he makes the season-opening trip to Australia or for that matter where he’s slotted in Arizona’s starting rotation, the former World Series champion noted he’s well aware that prior credentials only mean so much when coming to a new organization.
“Regardless of what you’ve done in the game, people want you to produce in front of their face,” said Arroyo. “I understand that. If I go out there and walk a bunch of guys it’s not going to look good. It’s about throwing strikes, getting a feel for your stuff, showing them that there’s things you do that you have done the last 10 years and that you can still do — like throwing breaking balls behind in the count, pitching in on some guys, picking guys off, just doing some of the smaller, subtler things.
“If they see you doing that, then they know they’ve signed a guy they used to see out there. If you get out there and are walking the house — and I’m a guy who walks 30-something guys a year — then they might think something is wrong here. I think any guy who is a new guy on a ball club wants to produce a little bit to make people know you’re not over the hill.”
From Gibson’s point of view, though, the D-backs are already sold.
“Well, we’ve seen a lot of him,” said Gibson. “We have total confidence in him. I can understand that because he has a lot of pride. He expects to be good and nobody wants to go out there and say, ‘I’m just getting my work in.’ You’re getting your work in and trying to win a ballgame.
“But, he’s already offered a lot within the clubhouse and to his teammates, as well. So to go out there on the mound and back it up has to be a good feeling.”