Describing a professional competitor as "competitive" is like describing a professional athlete as "athletic" -- it must mean the described has a particularly noteworthy measure of the trait.
That -- "competitive" -- is a word used to describe Patrick Corbin about as frequently as "gritty" is used to describe his team, the Arizona Diamondbacks. Which is to say, Corbin can't escape the description.
But unlike so many of the buzzwords that surface in sports due to a lack of something to say, "competitive" may be right on the money for Corbin.
On Tuesday, the 23-year-old left-hander shut out the Atlanta Braves in seven innings of work, just 24 hours after the same roster blew out Wade Miley and the Diamondbacks 10-1. In doing so, Corbin improved to 6-0 on the year, his team undefeated in each of his eight starts. His ERA had plunged to 1.52 by the end of his outing; only Matt Harvey (1.44) and Clayton Kershaw -- who Corbin out-dueled last month -- (1.40) have lower ERAs among Major League starters.
As on Tuesday night, when Corbin walked five Braves batters, needing three double play-inducing groundballs throughout the course of the game to avoid scathe, little, it seems, has been handed to Corbin in sports.
Growing up in upstate New York between two brothers, Daniel Jr. and Kevin, everything was a competition, according to Corbin. "And we never wanted to lose," he explained. "At anything. None of us. Whether it was -- well, anything. That's just how I grew up."
Their constant rivalry, he says, fueled the competitive spirit that he now channels when facing big league competition, facing rosters like that of the Braves.
"That feeling of competing is just awesome."
A multi-sport athlete throughout his youth, playing football for his first two years of high school and starring as a basketball player as an upperclassman at Cicero-North Syracuse High School in Cicero, New York, it wasn't until his junior year that Corbin commenced his calling as a pitcher. With a little prodding from some of his varsity basketball teammates, he attended his school's baseball tryouts, though he hadn't played the sport since he was a little leaguer.
He not only made the team, but he ultimately earned the Northstars' second starting pitching spot as they headed into the playoffs, going undefeated for the year.
"Pat showed up in the back of our stretching line in his junior year," Cicero-North head baseball coach Kevin Rockwell recalled in an email earlier this week. "(He was) a 6'3" skinny left-hander who had great arm action and threw hard but had no idea where it was going. Actually, it took our catcher that year three weeks to learn how to catch him because of his movement."
"He was extremely coachable and everything you are looking for on and off the field in a high school athlete."
That year, 2006, Corbin struck out as many as 10 hitters in a seven-inning outing more than once.
A year later, following a successful basketball season as Cicero-North's starting shooting guard, the lanky Corbin showed glimpses of brilliance as his team's ace, once striking out 14 in just seven innings, honing his command, upping his velocity, and letting his competitive instinct take over.
"As for his competitiveness," coach Rockwell said, "off the field, he is one of the nicest kids you are going to meet and he will do anything for you, but when he gets out on the mound he would strike out his mother if he had the chance and (he'd) probably pitch inside. That is just his makeup and another reason why he has been so successful at all levels. It doesn't matter if he is on the mound in the big leagues or playing your 8 year old in checkers, he is going to try to win."
Upon graduating, Corbin was headed for Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, New York on a dual-sport scholarship. He thrived both on the court, averaging 15.4 points per game, and from the mound, where he managed an ERA of just 1.87 in 45 innings pitched.
The constant activity -- going from shootaround to bullpen session, the foul line to the pitching rubber -- kept Corbin's competitive edge in fine fettle, his athletic potential blossoming all the while.
But, Corbin explained, baseball recognition was hard to come by in upstate New York. And baseball, he began to realize, was probably where he had the best shot at big-time success.
Thus, Corbin had to make what he describes as his "biggest decision" -- leaving Mohawk Valley for another junior college in Florida, Chipola College.
"I just needed to get out of (New York) so I could get seen," he said. "And when I went down there is when I realized, ‘Hey -- maybe I can go somewhere in baseball."
He did, getting drafted by the Angels in the second round of MLB's 2009 First-Year Player Draft, just two years removed from high school and with only a handful of years pitching under his belt.
A little over a year later, at the 2010 trade deadline the Angels were seeking a bona fide big league frontline starter and they expressed interest in Diamondbacks pitcher Dan Haren. The two teams agreed to a trade that would send Haren to Anaheim and pitchers Joe Saunders, Tyler Skaggs, Rafael Rodriguez and Corbin all to Arizona. At the time, Saunders was the veteran, mid-rotation, innings-eating lefty that the Diamondbacks wanted and the prospect package was just that -- prospective, with Skaggs highlighting the group.
After a season and a half in the Diamondbacks' organization, Corbin -- along with Skaggs -- finished his 2011 seasons with the Double-A Mobile Bay Bears, posting a respectable 9-8 record to go along with a 4.21 ERA in 160.1 innings pitched. He had some control issues, throwing a team-high 16 wild pitches, but he had more than just that to overcome.
His main obstacle: competition.
Besides fellow former Angels farmhand, Skaggs, Corbin had a host of highly-touted pitching prospect teammates to beat out -- guys like Jarrod Parker, Trevor Bauer, Wade Miley and Charles Brewer, guys who all ranked higher in prospect rankings lists than him. Then 21 years old and still largely untapped, Corbin welcomed the challenge.
"I always knew I could come in here and compete with (Bauer and Skaggs)," Corbin said. "They were obviously high picks and got a lot of attention, but I think I knew I had to go out there and prove myself. Every pitcher wants to go out there and be better than the next guy."
When Diamondbacks pitchers and catchers reported to Salt River Fields last February, Corbin's intra-organization had been trimmed down, with Parker being traded to the A's for pitcher Trevor Cahill. A non-roster invitee, he impressed, outperforming all but Miley among the organization's minor league pitching talent.
And so last season, with Josh Collmenter struggling as the Diamondbacks' No. 3 starter throughout Spring Training and the first month of the season, the organization looked to tap into their acclaimed pitching depth to replace the right-hander. Along with Corbin, general manager Kevin Towers and the Diamondbacks considered both Bauer and Skaggs for the spot.
It was Corbin who got the call up and Collmenter's spot in the rotation for five turns, before being optioned to Triple-A Reno on May 22, when the Diamondbacks were forced to recall catcher Konrad Schmidt after Miguel Montero sustained a groin injury. In his first five starts as a big leaguer, the left-hander went 2-3 with a 5.27 ERA.
"He's a guy who likes to go out there and compete every outing," Montero said of Corbin when discussing his time in the big leagues in 2012. "I noticed that last year, in his first year."
In three separate stints with the Diamondbacks last season -- one, a two-week stretch in the long relief role -- Corbin went 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA. In both secondary call-ups, Corbin was praised for his ability to make the adjustments necessary for progression.
A year after his revelatory 2012 camp, Corbin was set to compete against Skaggs for the No. 5 spot in the Diamondbacks' rotation throughout Spring Training 2013. He won handily and hasn't looked back.
This season, Corbin hasn't left a single one of his eight starts without a lead. He has allowed two runs or fewer in each start -- all of which have lasted at least six innings, making him the first Diamondbacks pitcher to ever accomplish such a feat. Moreover, after Tuesday's dominant effort, Corbin joined Randy Johnson as the only other Diamondbacks left-hander to begin a season 6-0. He has beaten lefties Cole Hamels and Clayton Kershaw and, in only the second year of his career, he's very much en route to representing the Diamondbacks in his home state of New York at the 2013 All Star game.
"This guy's still developing," Montero said. "He's getting better and better and better every time out."
Though he wasn't sure who to compare Corbin to, saying he was his own type of pitcher, Montero did offer this when talking about the pitcher's dominance this year: "I wouldn't be surprised if in a couple of years he was the ace.
He's competitive. He goes out there and he takes care of business. That tells you a lot."
In the same vein, Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson chimed in on Corbin, "He's not intimated by any situation. He doesn't back down or give in."
Corbin has only corroborated the claims of his coaches and teammates this year, fanning the fire of competition with each pitch. He wields a philosophy that could apply to facing former Cy Young winners like Kershaw, hot-hitting offenses like the Braves, or an 8-year-old in checkers.
"You've just got to go out there and compete and never give up," he says.
"Justin Upton busted his ass here. Let's not forget about that."
That's what Kirk Gibson had to say on Thursday afternoon, but that's not the storyline you've been force-fed.
Justin Upton wasn't gritty enough. He didn't play Gibby ball.
That's more like it.
Let's discuss those notions.
Three games into the 2012 season, in the seventh inning of a game versus the division-rival Giants, the Diamondbacks trailed 6-5 with the bases loaded, one out, and Miguel Montero at the plate. Upton stood on first base.
On his takeout slide into second, Upton injured his thumb and the team considered placing him on the disabled list. In hindsight, it seems that would have been a wise decision, as Upton revealed on the last day of the season that he had been playing through the thumb injury for the entire year, unable to replicate his MVP-caliber performance from 2011.
As quoted in a FoxSportsArizona.com story, Upton had this to say of his decision to play through the injury, "It's something I had to live with. I feel like I gave everything I had this season. I can go home with my head high. If I'm not 100 percent but I can play, I'm going to play."
Indeed, the right fielder played through pain for 147 games last season, yet he was traded for a lack of grit. I'm not buying it. In fact, I think playing 147 baseball games with a thumb sprain because you don't want to abandon your teammates -- as Upton explained in the aforementioned Fox Sports Arizona piece -- is a great way to characterize ‘grit.'
Injuring your thumb in a takeout slide and leading the majors in the hit-by-pitch category because of your refusal to back off the plate -- as Upton did in his 2011 campaign -- are two more ways to earn a ‘gritty' label.
Having your manager -- who himself happens to be a poster boy for ‘grit' -- defend you throughout your down year, calling you one of the hardest workers on his team, mentioning your frequent early-BP attendance and your strong desire to be in the lineup, despite your injury and struggles is yet another way to win the affections of grit gluttons.
Batting .280, finishing just one run behind the National League's runs leader, Ryan Braun, hitting 17 home runs, recording an on-base percentage just four one-hundredths less (.355) than the main guy you were traded for -- Martin Prado who had a .359 OBP -- and playing in more games than all but one of your teammates? Is that gutless? Grit-less?
You can criticize Derrick Rose or Jay Cutler for lacking grit, for not playing through pain. Save Upton from such criticism, though.
Let's ditch this storyline. The truth of the matter is that general manager Kevin Towers had been shopping Upton, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, since he arrived in Arizona in September 2010.
As far as Upton being a bad fit, he had zero off-field problems with the Diamondbacks. And one of his more memorable issues with the fan base came when he said he "didn't care" that fans were booing him. What was he supposed to say, the year after getting a passionate standing ovation at Chase Field as an NL All-Star? That he cared deeply and wished the booing would stop?
Call the Diamondbacks -- who obtained Prado (.223/ .272/ .331 and 2-for-34 with runners in scoring position), and a handful of Braves' prospects, none ranked higher than No. 7 in the Atlanta system -- winners in the trade. Call the Diamondbacks outfield crowded and the upgrade at third base necessary. Call the chemistry of the 2013 Diamondbacks better than that of the 2012 team.
Do all that, just make sure you also call Justin Upton gritty.
Los Angeles natives Jack and Anna, along with 18 guests, made the three-hour trip from Yuma to Phoenix last Friday to watch their beloved Dodgers take on the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. They had the best seats in the house, the Batter's Box Suite, which, according to the Diamondbacks, provides "an unparalleled view of the playing field from behind home plate" and "unbeatable proximity to the live action."
Excited for the night ahead, Anna went into work early on Friday morning -- at 5:30 a.m., to be exact -- so she could get in a full day before pulling her seven-year-old daughter out of school early and heading east. Eleven hours later, she and her family were among the first of their group to pass through the Chase Field turnstiles, arriving just in time to catch Dodgers batting practice.
As time counted down to first pitch, the 20-person suite that Jack and Anna rented out for $3,000 began to fill up with Dodger blue. Starting pitchers Patrick Corbin and Clayton Kershaw had made their way to the outfield to long toss with their respective catchers. The Chase Field grounds crew was meticulously chalking the baselines and batter's box. Players from both teams occupied the outfield, stretching and sprinting and visiting with one another. And Diamondbacks public address announcer, Chuck Drago, had welcomed the game's attendees to Chase Field, which he'd declare as, "Home of the Diamondbacks, the most fan-friendly team in sports."
Soon after the Desert Ridge High School Concert Choir performed the "Star-Spangled Banner" and right around the time Corbin took the mound to begin throwing his warm-up pitches, Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick made his way from his seat -- which is adjacent to his team's dugout -- to Jack and Anna's group in the Batter's Box Suite. There, he was seen "pointing his finger, raising his voice, and frustratedly flipping his arms in the air" at the group, as described by one observer who contributed to Deadspin's original report on the incident.
For Kendrick, the proud owner of an award-winning organization that is known for its philanthropy and fan focus, the apparent issue was that Jack and Anna's group would be populating every television camera shot of every pitch with the opposing team's colors. So, instead of having television viewers see a group of Dodgers fans filling the seats directly behind home plate at Chase Field, Kendrick had television viewers see that group of Dodgers fans behind home plate undergo a costume change.
Jack and Anna's group had to change into Diamondbacks apparel in order to retain presence in the $3,000 suite.
Presumably to avoid the appearance of being lacking in fan support, the Diamondbacks recently created a policy -- which, allegedly, was neither told to Jeff and Anna at time of purchase, nor published on the Dbacks.com suites page -- that prohibits the wearing of an opposing team's apparel in the Batter's Box Suite.
"Nobody told us (about that policy)," Anna told me during the bottom of the second inning, now wearing a backward black Diamondbacks T-shirt. "We paid a lot of money for this suite and, had we known the rules, we probably wouldn't have bought the tickets."
In response to an inquiry by Deadspin, the Diamondbacks gave this explanation of the night's proceedings:
Due to the high visibility of the home plate box, we ask opposing team's fans when they purchase those seats to refrain from wearing that team's colors. During last night's game, when Ken Kendrick noticed the fans there, he offered them another suite if they preferred to remain in their Dodger gear. When they chose to stay, he bought them all D-backs gear and a round of drinks and requested that they abide by our policy and they obliged.
Although Jack and Anna's representation of their encounter with Kendrick excluded such cordiality (they stated that he told them they were wearing "the wrong shirts" and that they'd be escorted out of the stadium if they didn't comply with the policy), the issue at hand isn't really one that is subject to "he said, she said" rhubarbs. The truth of what the Diamondbacks' offer actually was, the measure to which Kendrick actually got involved, and the decency with which the situation was handled may be unassailable.
But the policy and the fact that Kendrick involved himself in its enforcement is highly questionable for an organization that struggled to fill seats last year -- finishing 13th in gross attendance among the National League's 16 teams -- and hurt its reputation in the offseason, drawing criticism in the trades of two outfield mainstays, in Justin Upton and Chris Young, and one big-time prospect, the highly-touted Trevor Bauer.
Ironically, Kendrick's team played a marvelous game on Friday night -- one manager Kirk Gibson described as "perfect" in his post-game press conference, defeating Kershaw and the Dodgers 3-0. But, with thousands unleashing their disapproval of the owner and his team's policy in the hours after news of Friday night's episode first broke, the victory has been marred by Kendrick's pre-game strikeout.
For both Kendrick and those in his best suite, Friday was a showing of true colors. Seconds after J.J. Putz threw the final pitch of the game, members of Jack and Anna's group stripped out of their designated Diamondbacks attire and tossed it into the seats behind them. They then exited the suite just as they entered it -- in Dodger blue.
Two teams took the field on Friday night in Phoenix. One, a division leader, had an eight-year veteran who threw a perfect game earlier this season on the mound. The other, a sub-.500 team who entered play 10 games back in their division, called upon a young southpaw making his fifth career start to inch them closer to a postseason berth.
The former team won.
Indeed, the Giants and Diamondbacks are two teams at odds, headed in different directions and, evidently, toward different destinations.
As Major League Baseball's trade deadline approached in late July, the Giants, who then had a one or two game lead in the National League West, made their roster strategy clear: acquire difference-making veterans who will shore up the weaknesses and fortify the strengths. And they did just that, landing Hunter Pence from the Phillies -- Friday night's offensive star and pioneer, who hit a third-inning grand slam to put his team up 5-0.
The Diamondbacks, too, made their down-the-stretch roster plans apparent: part with under-producing veterans, save money, and experiment with in-house talent. Stephen Drew, Ryan Roberts, and Joe Saunders were each traded to American League Wild Card contenders, while prospects like Ryan Wheeler, Jake Elmore, Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs and, most recently, Adam Eaton were called up. Zero big league games between them at the onset of the 2012 season -- and just nine total by the start of the second half of the season, this is the group of rookies who were called upon to string together a run at the postseason.
Well, that's what many thought they were called up for, nonsensical as it seemed.
It's quite plain now, however, that winning -- and the postseason, in general -- is just a bonus that would complement the real reason such unproven rookies are starting in big league baseball games at this juncture of the season.
"He's young," Gibson said of his rookie starting pitcher, Tyler Skaggs, after Friday's game. "He's very young. You can look at all the 21-year-olds who have been in the game and they learn a lot of lessons."
Gibson went on, "Your hope is that he (develops) the character that will make him better. If we didn't believe that, I don't think he'd be here."
The contrast between the Giants and Diamondbacks was glaringly lurid on Friday. Matt Cain, the Giants' starter, practically hosted a workshop on how to pitch out of jams, allowing just one of 11 Diamondbacks baserunners to score as he coped with an off-night.
Both Hunter Pence and relief pitcher Santiago Casilla hit with the bases loaded. And, although they only tallied one more hit than their opposition, they managed to plate four more runs.
Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks went 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position and made a myriad of mistakes. Pitcher Tyler Skaggs failed to cover first base on a low line drive which was snagged by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt along the first base line and walked the pitcher in the third inning, who would score the first run of the game. Later in the inning, the 21-year-old left a letter-high fastball over the plate for Hunter Pence to crush to the left field bleachers.
"As a young pitcher, you have to learn to get out of jams," Skaggs said of himself after the loss. "You can never walk the pitcher... It has just been unacceptable on my part the last two outings. It's been almost embarrassing."
Adam Eaton was caught stealing third base in the first inning with Goldschmidt at the plate and Aaron Hill on first. Eaton, who has been repeatedly praised for his patience at the plate since being called up, later swung at the first pitch he saw from Jeremy Affeldt with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning, grounding into a fielder's choice that got lead runner Justin Upton out at home plate.
The Diamondbacks' may be favorable down the stretch, but let's be clear -- this team, this group of players, is here to build character and learn lessons. The postseason is just a cherry on top.
Kirk Gibson's optimism -- weathered and worn by a season largely marked by disappointment and debacle -- is still very much intact.
Three of the five pitchers in Gibson's starting rotation are rookies. The left side of his infield is still fluid and undecided. His RBI leader is in a slump that has lasted nearly two months. And his leadoff hitter has played a total of seven big league games in his career. But he's not going to point any of that out.
Gibson, instead, is keen to evince -- not conceal -- his team's position in the National League Wild Card standings, juxtaposing them with the 2011 Cardinals, who were in a worse position at this time last season than the Diamondbacks currently are, the skipper would say.
"(Our position) is getting better," Gibson said after the Diamondbacks' 2-1 victory against the Dodgers on Wednesday night. "Things are getting interesting."
It's easy to deride Gibson's buoyancy as irrational and gimmicky. The season is nearly 90-percent through and his team is 4.5 games back in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot. If you look closely, however, you'll see why Gibson doesn't mind his team's chances all that much.
Five teams stand between the Diamondbacks and the second NL Wild Card spot at the moment. Here's a look at each team's final stretch of the season.
Arizona Diamondbacks - 4.5 GB
Games remaining: 19
Home games remaining: 12
Games against above-.500 teams remaining: 6
The Diamondbacks are the furthest back in the NL Wild Card race of the teams we'll discuss. Yet, interestingly enough, their schedule is the easiest of the teams in contention. Aside from three games in San Francisco and four in Denver, all of the Diamondbacks' remaining games are at Chase Field, where they are 35-34 so far this season.
More than one-third of the games remaining on the Diamondbacks' schedule are against the Rockies and three are against the Cubs. Their other nine games are made up of two series versus the Giants and one against the suddenly-hot Padres.
Of course, as with last year's world champion Cardinals, the Diamondbacks will need a lot of cooperation from the teams in front of them to even be in contention by the beginning of October.
St. Louis Cardinals - +2 GB
Games remaining: 18
Home games remaining: 9
Games against above-.500 teams: 9
The remainder of the Cardinals' games are split between teams with winning records and teams with losing records. After beating the Dodgers 2-1 on Thursday night, the Cardinals added to their Wild Card lead. They have three more games left in their four-game series in Los Angeles, followed by nine consecutive games against either the Astros or the Cubs. The Cardinals finish their season with a six-game homestand against the Nationals and the Reds.
Los Angeles Dodgers - 2 GB
Games remaining: 18
Home games remaining: 9
Games against above-.500 teams: 12
The Dodgers, who are now 6-12 since their blockbuster trade with the Red Sox, have a tough rest of the way. They play host to the Cardinals for three more games -- in a series that could very well be the ultimate determiner of the coveted second NL Wild Card spot -- before embarking on a nine-game road trip to Washington, Cincinnati, and San Diego. Then, if they manage to survive that, they return to Dodger Stadium for their final two series of the season -- one against the Rockies and one against the Giants.
Pittsburgh Pirates - 3 GB
Games remaining: 20
Home games remaining: 9
Games against above-.500 teams: 9
The Pirates played in a 19-inning game for the second year in a row. And, for the second year in a row, they have gone 5-15 following that marathon game, which has put them three games back in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot. And while the rest of their schedule looks challenging -- with 20 games over the next 20 days -- their most difficult series are being played in Pittsburgh. The Brewers, Reds, and Braves will all pay a visit to PNC Park over the next few weeks, which, in tandem with the other teams in contention, will be key in deciding their postseason fate.
Milwaukee Brewers - 3.5 GB
Games remaining: 19
Home games remaining: 9
Games against above-.500 teams: 10
The Brewers finish a homestand with a series versus the Mets this weekend before embarking on an incredibly difficult 10-game road trip that features a three-game stop in Pittsburgh, a four-game stop in Washington, and a three-game stop in Cincinnati. The road trip will undoubtedly be the main determining factor in the team's postseason chances, as they have the fourth-worst road record (28-43) in the National League, behind only the Rockies, Cubs, and Astros. The Brewers close their season at home versus the Astros and Padres.
Philadelphia Phillies - 4 GB
Games remaining: 18
Home games remaining: 6
Games against above-.500 teams: 9
A mere six home games remain for the Phillies, who lost to the Astros late Thursday night. And those six games aren't easy -- with three against the Braves and three against the Nationals. However, the Phillies' next six games are on the road against the Astros and Mets, and it will be key for them to capitalize on the matchups. Charlie Manuel's newly-resurrected club will close the season with a road trip to Miami, then Washington and they'll need to stay hot to make up their four-game deficit in the NL Wild Card race.
The Diamondbacks open up a series with the Giants, whom they're 7-5 against this season, on Friday night. Like Gibson, the clubhouse remains positive about their postseason chances.
"We're definitely not out of it," Trevor Cahill said, after notching his eleventh win of the season on Wednesday night.
You know that maxim that you were inundated with as a child -- "Don't judge a book by its cover"? The sentiment of the statement is benevolent but, as a society, we've all but abandoned its application.
I, for example, frequently hear that I don't look like a sports fan -- if there is such a look. Maybe I don't wear enough athletic apparel, maybe I should be drinking more crappy light mainstream lagers, or maybe I should grow a goatee.
I don't know how to acquire that image but, as things stand, my appearance seems to give no credence to the truth that I have an addiction to sports. (In fact, a couple of weeks ago, I was called a "closet jock.")
Appearance is just a poor basis for drawing conclusions. Based on appearance, Nate Robinson shouldn't be able to dunk a basketball. And Rory McIlroy shouldn't be able to drive a golf ball 310 yards. Paul Goldschmidt shouldn't be leading the Diamondbacks in stolen bases. And Mike Zagurski shouldn't be a professional athlete... In any sport other than curling or archery.
That's why the following statement is going to be repugnant to your prejudicial self.
Justin Upton should be batting leadoff for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
(Before we dive into the proof, let me give credit to shoewizard at azsnakepit.com for being the first to write about this.)
Also, before you deem this idea absurd or asinine, here's what Upton himself had to say about the suggestion when we talked about it on Monday:
"I haven't really thought about it. I mean, I know I could bat leadoff -- I've always just been a middle-of-the-order guy. But I'd be open to it..."
(After sharing my logic with him.)
(Joking) "Maybe if I was batting leadoff, I'd be hitting .340. (Laughs). No, you've definitely got a solid story... Sounds like there's some pretty good evidence there... I'd definitely (bat leadoff)."
Upton hasn't batted leadoff since his freshman year in high school, so it's hard to determine just how well he'd do as a table setter. But we can gather a bit of an estimate on how he'd fare, based on how he has done when leading off an inning this year.
At 3:20 PM on Wednesday, Tyler Skaggs hadn't yet checked his cell phone for congratulatory text messages and voicemails.
"I had some things going on, so I had to, uh, take a shower," Skaggs said with a smirk on his face while talking to reporters at his locker following the Diamondbacks 3-2 win over the Marlins.
Skaggs, who turned 21 last month, was alluding to a beer shower ritual -- something veteran teammates give rookies after a successful first performance. For Skaggs, it was well-deserved.
With a depleted bullpen from the Marlins' offensive assaults the previous two days, the Diamondbacks were leaning on the left-handed debutant to go deep in game one of the first ever day-night doubleheader at Chase Field. And Skaggs did just that, holding a team that had 35 hits in its previous two games to just three hits, two runs, in 6.2 innings of work. The performance was good for the second-longest debut by a Diamondbacks pitcher in franchise history.
Skaggs, a Los Angeles native, was drafted by the Angels in the supplemental first round of the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft. And, exactly a year later, he was traded to the Diamondbacks along with lefties Patrick Corbin and Joe Saunders and right-handed pitcher Rafael Rodriguez in exchange for Dan Haren.
Last year, Skaggs was named the Diamondbacks 2011 Organization Pitcher of the Year and he started for the United States team in the 2011 All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field.
It wouldn't really be accurate to say he was an underdog, but Patrick Corbin definitely didn't receive the same fanfare and recognition that was lavished upon other Diamondbacks pitching prospects -- names like Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley.
Even after dynamic spring training, most were calling for Bauer, not Corbin, when the struggling Josh Collmenter lost his spot in the Diamondbacks' rotation.
Meanwhile, Wade Miley -- another young, not-so-touted Diamondbacks lefty -- was excelling in the long relief role, garnering consideration for inclusion in the starting rotation after sneaking into the last spot on the 25-man roster.
Miley, you'll remember, got his chance on April 23, just 17 games into the season, when Daniel Hudson was put on the disabled list with shoulder stiffness. He held the Phillies to two hits and no runs over six strong innings, in which he struck out seven and walked just one.
Miley never hit the brakes, recording just one loss in the first two months of the season.
And Corbin got his call-up on April 30, taking over Collmenter's spot in the rotation. After beating the Marlins, Corbin would get four more starts with the big club before being sent back down to Reno. He'd get another stint at the big league level, filling the long relief role for five games between June 28 and July 13.
Now, Corbin's back and he plans on being here for good. The young southpaw's third call-up of the season came on August 1. He's made four starts since then and hasn't lost one of them, going 3-0 with a 2.77 ERA and 24 strikeouts.
This isn't the way Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson drew things out, but this is what's working. Corbin is the hottest starter on the team -- undefeated in the month of August. And Miley is the most consistent -- leading all starters in wins (13) and earned run average (2.96).
Neither young lefty was even supposed to crack the starting rotation, which originally consisted of Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter, Trevor Cahill and Joe Saunders.
Monday, August 20 at 6:40 MDT -- LHP Joe Saunders (6-9; 3.70) vs. LHP Mark Buehrle (10-11; 3.74)
Saunders is the younger, more powerful version of Buehrle. And Buehrle is the older, more crafty version of Saunders. Both pitchers are having similar years, ebbing and flowing, streaking and slumping with the season. Saunders is 1-2 with a 4.19 ERA in his last three starts, which came on the heels of a really solid July. Buehrle, meanwhile, is 1-1 with a 4.74 ERA in his last three starts.
Tuesday, August 21 at 6:40 MDT -- RHP Trevor Cahill (9-10; 3.74) vs. RHP Ricky Nolasco (9-12; 4.94)
Cahill held the Cardinals to one run in six innings pitched in his last outing, which ultimately resulted in a come-from-behind victory for the Diamondbacks. Cahill is 0-1 with a 3.74 ERA in his last three starts and he has given up 12 home runs in his last 11 starts. Nolasco is 1-2 with a 5.21 ERA in his last three starts and pitched a complete game loss in his last outing.
Wednesday, August 22 at 12:20 MDT (game one) -- TBA vs. TBA
We'll see four starting pitchers on Wednesday, but we don't know who they all are or when they'll pitch. On Monday, Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson confirmed that Wade Miley will be one of his starters on Wednesday, but he doesn't yet know which game he'll pitch in. For the Diamondbacks, Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs are, presumably, the two spot starters under consideration. Bauer would be on five days' rest on Wednesday and his last outing with Triple-A Reno was a 12-strikeout, two-run complete game. On the other hand, Skaggs was scratched prior to his start on Sunday, with no corresponding injury announcement ever surfacing.
Wednesday, August 22 at 6:40 MDT (game two) -- TBA vs. TBA
One week before being traded to the Diamondbacks, Chris Johnson -- then an Astro -- sent a 1-2 pitch from Josh Collmenter to the Chase Field wall in deep left-center field. That was one of his four hits in a late-July series against the Diamondbacks in which Johnson was able to showcase his solid bat and steady defense for General Manager Kevin Towers.
On Sunday, July 29, Chris Johnson was called out of a Minute Maid Park batting cage and into then Manager Brad Mills' office to be told that he had been traded to the Diamondbacks. He then proceeded to the locker room to apologize to his Astros teammates -- many of whom he had made his way through the minor league circuit with -- for leaving them in the midst of an arduous and adverse rebuild.
"When times are rough, teams kind of bind together," Johnson explained. "Guys get close when you go through stuff like that. So just before I left, I said to a couple of the guys I had been with for a while, ‘Hey, sorry I'm leaving, but keep it up.'"
The next day, when Johnson first donned Sedona red, he made another strong impression. But this one didn't just catch Towers' attention; it caught the attention of the entire fan base. In the fifth inning of a key game against the division-rival Dodgers, the Diamondbacks' number six hitter, Miguel Montero, was intentionally walked to load the bases for Johnson. Four pitches later, Johnson hit a grand slam -- the first of his big league career.
Johnson would go on to hit four more home runs on the Diamondbacks' 10-game road trip to Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. The five home runs would make for his first away home runs of the season and they all came in parks he had played in earlier that season with the Astros.
On Friday, the 27-year-old third baseman made his home debut with the Diamondbacks. In it, he got the lone hit and lone RBI versus Nationals' phenom Stephen Strasburg and spoke lengthily and cordially with the media following the 9-1 loss.
And before Saturday's game, I decided to introduce myself to the newest Diamondbacks' starter and maybe make a little small talk.
"Hi Chris, I'm Jules Tompkins with Arizona Sports 620," I said. "Do you have a minute?"
"Hi Jules, I'm Chris Johnson and I've got a minute, sure. Nice to meet you." The classy, humble response just added to the impression-making binge Johnson's been on.
In 13 games with the Diamondbacks, Chris Johnson has 18 RBIs and a .286 batting average.
Chris Johnson quick facts:
-Born in Naples, Florida
-Attended Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers before going on to play at Stetson University and Florida Atlantic University
-Resides in Fort Myers in the offseason
-Drafted by the Astros in the fourth round of the 2006 draft
-Made his major league debut on September 9, 2009 versus Atlanta; got the call-up due to a Geoff Blum injury
-Father, Ron, is the manager of the Norfolk Tides, the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles
-Signed through the end of the 2012 season
-A self-described "huge" Florida State Seminoles fan
After the Diamondbacks scored six runs in the second
inning of Friday's game against the Mets, Josh Collmenter
didn't plan to give up his fifth earned run of the game --
a three-run home run by David Wright -- just eight
The second-year right-hander reported to spring training
this February as a rotation shoe-in, after posting a 10-10
record and 3.38 ERA in 31 games (154.1 innings pitched) in
2011 -- numbers that helped him to finish fifth in
National League Rookie of the Year voting. But things
didn't exactly go Collmenter's way in spring training. He
went 0-4 in six starts, logging a 9.95 ERA while opponents
combined for a .325 batting average against him. Such a
flat performance only roused Collmenter's critics, who
regarded him as nothing more than a deceptive "novelty
act" whose pitches lacked life.
So as the Diamondbacks headed into the regular season, the
general consensus of the media and the fan base seemed to
be that Collmenter no longer deserved a spot in the team's
starting rotation. That notion was spiritedly reinforced
by the 26-year-old's first start of the year -- a three-
inning, six-hit, six-run misadventure versus the division
By the end of April, Collmenter was 0-2 with a 9.82 ERA in
four starts, corroborating the suspicion that so many had
previously voiced. And to the bullpen he went, newly
ordained as the long relief man. Collmenter, who
anticipated a season squarely in the middle of the
Diamondbacks' starting rotation, found himself squarely in
the depths of the team's bullpen.
Fast forward about two months -- it's June 22 and
Collmenter, frankly, isn't much more than an afterthought,
despite his quietly-solid relief outings, allowing just
three earned runs in 18.1 innings pitched, good for a 1.49
ERA in that stretch. It's a Friday night and the
Diamondbacks are at home, set to open a three-game series
with the Cubs. Joe Saunders is the scheduled starting
About 10 minutes prior to first pitch, Saunders, who was
having difficulty getting warmed up due to stiffness in
his shoulder, is scratched. So Collmenter got the call and
proceeded to pitch four innings of three-hit, one-run
baseball on about five minutes of preparation.
Ten days later, he made another start -- this one on the
road, in Milwaukee -- and he, again, gave up just three
hits and one run, lasting six innings.
Since then, he's undefeated as a starter.
Friday's struggles resembled Collmenter's early season
woes -- they were early and many. They drew back
those familiar misgivings -- "he can't hide behind his
deceptive delivery anymore," "his novelty is fading,"
"hitters have figured him out." Indeed, after giving up
that three-run home run to Wright -- the Mets' fifth
earned run before Collmenter even collected his seventh
out of the game -- I overheard someone in the press box
mutter, "There's the Josh we know and love."
But we should know by now that Collmenter isn't all that
fazed by mishap. After all, that -- mishap -- was really
the mark of his first month of the season, as well as the
spring that preceded it. Yet, flawed as that was, he
"Josh Collmenter really kept his composure," Manager Kirk
Gibson would say of him following the game. "It was just
typical Coll-y ... A lot of guys would have lost their
composure there ... Guy's got ice in his veins and he's
just very calm and on-task at all times, regardless of the
Here he was, walking behind the pitcher's mound at Chase
Field. Hat off, wiping the sweat from his forehead as the
Mets' third baseman trotted around the bases. His team,
the one that repeatedly gave him a chance -- one that he
blew over and over -- early in the season, despite his
struggles, had again given him a chance -- a six-run one
on Friday and it sure as heck looked like he was going
to blow this one, too.
But somehow, he rallied, retiring 12 of the next 14 Mets
he'd face, five via strikeout, while striking out the side
with just 12 pitches in his last inning of work.
Yeah, he's all novelty. All deception. He'd have to be if
he's manhandling batters the second and third times
through the order, right?
It might be time to add resilience to that scouting