SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — There are always injuries, which fling splinters into lineups. Then, there are platoon situations and matchups.
And then there’s Kirk Gibson.
Over the last three seasons, the Arizona Diamondbacks manager has set 392 different lineups — not counting the pitcher’s spot — in 486 games.
And now, entering his fourth full season as the team’s skipper, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change in 2014.
The Diamondbacks boast a roster chock-full of versatile hitters — players who can hit in any of the three thirds of the batting order with relative belonging. There’s no prototypical leadoff guy to be found among Gibson’s personnel. However, there’s a lack of left-handed bats among projected starting position players.
Gibson knows — coupled with his lineup-setting tendencies of old — a conundrum awaits him this season.
“There are comments that have been made about me changing my lineups in the past,” Gibson said last month prior to Cactus League play. “But there are some really good teams that do it for the right reasons.”
This season, the Diamondbacks look to be stacking up as an lopsidedly right-handed team. Not considering the potential of injuries, trades and the like, the most left-handed bats that the Diamondbacks could have in a regular starting lineup would likely be three — catcher Miguel Montero, outfielder Gerardo Parra and shortstop Didi Gregorius, if he wins the shortstop position battle over Chris Owings by the time camp breaks.
“You try to figure out on that given day really what is the best lineup,” Gibson explained of his approach. “You try to think things up because it changes. Maybe a guy is not available on the opponent’s team on a certain day, so you might change things, you know.
“Overall we want to be flexible. We want to be able to move guys around.”
But, as Gibson previously alluded to in the press conference, his critics rail against his inability to find day-to-day consistency — something he sees value in.
“At the same time,” he went on, “it’s good if you can get a set lineup. I understand that. I came up in the era when that happened. There’s more science to it, I guess, than there was then.”
A few players, in particular, pose problems to Gibson in the endeavor for consistency, thanks in part to their invaluable versatility. Third baseman Martin Prado and second baseman Aaron Hill — both with a rare combination of power, contact and a knack for situational hitting — can’t easily be pigeonholed into a particular spot in the lineup.
“I think he’s a great two-hole hitter,” Gibson said of Prado on Thursday. “I think he’s great at four. You can hit Prado anywhere.”
Last month, the manager virtually said the same of Hill.
As Cactus League games are crossed off the calendar and the team counts down to its season opener in Australia, little is known of Gibson’s lineup leanings.
“It’s not something that I’ve got figured out yet,” he said. “I haven’t really put a lot of thought into it.”
Meanwhile, just one player seems to have carved out a specific place in the batting order: First baseman — and 2013 National League runner-up in MVP voting — Paul Goldschmidt.
“I think he’s probably three and the pitcher’s probably nine,” Gibson said in February. “You guys fill in the rest.”
Questions arose as to whether Gibson would consider putting his two premiere right-handed power bats back-to-back in the lineup: Placing outfield offseason acquisition Mark Trumbo behind Goldschmidt in the batting order.
“I’m not going there,” he replied. “You all can submit your lineup.
“Make sure you put your name on it.”
Rest assured, even if every media member in the room obeyed the order and turned in a lineup card, the skipper who put together 138 different combinations last season is bound to fill out far more in 2014 than a small throng of reporters could possibly conjure.