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Steven Souza Jr. arrives in Arizona excited to be a D-back

Tampa Bay Rays' Steven Souza Jr. shouts in frustration after striking out against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fifth inning of a baseball game Monday, June 6, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – On Monday, outfielder Steven Souza Jr. was in Florida, wearing a Tampa Bay Rays uniform.

Three days and some 1800-plus miles later, Souza Jr. found himself in Arizona, again playing baseball but this time with D-backs splashed across his chest.

That’s two teams in two different leagues — separated by two time zones — in just more than half a week.

“It’s been insane to say the least. It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind,” Souza Jr. said Thursday. “I missed a couple of days down in Tampa, flying back home for some family reasons, so I really haven’t stopped traveling. So, it’s been nice to finally get here, get settled, get back on the field and I’m just excited to be here.”

Souza Jr., whom the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired as part of a three-team trade on Tuesday, arrived at Salt River Fields early Thursday morning.

“It is lovely out here, I’ll tell you that. This is an amazing complex,” he said.

And not one to waste a lot of time, Souza Jr. immediately went to work. He took batting practice with a group that included first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and third baseman Jake Lamb, two of the handful of D-backs players he already had a history with.

“He’s going to fit right in to this clubhouse. We’re excited about the type of bat, about the type of defender and about the type of person that just walked into our clubhouse this morning,” manager Torey Lovullo said.

“I watched a couple of rounds of his BP. It looked like the swing was where he wanted it. I didn’t have a chance to follow-up with him, but we’re thrilled that he’s here and he’s happy to be here and it was a good introduction this morning.”

Souza Jr., 28, is coming off his best season as a pro.

In 2017, Souza Jr. set career-highs in most offensive categories, including runs (78), hits (125), doubles (21), triples (2), home runs (30) and RBI (78). He was one of just six right-handed hitters with 30 or more home runs and 84 or more walks; he and only four others finished the year with 30-plus home runs and 16-plus stolen bases.

Goldschmidt, too, landed in both categories.

The D-backs expect Souza Jr. to play every day and likely in right field, which is where he’s spent much of his four-year career.

Playing at Chase Field, however, will be a relatively new experience. He’s done so just twice, recording two hits and an RBI in 10 at-bats.

Chase Field is known as a hitter-friendly ballpark. Tropicana Field is not.

Souza Jr. is looking forward to the change of scenery.

“I’m really excited about it, to be honest with you,” he said. “Tampa is not a fun place to play at, as far as a hitter’s park. I got used to it. I embraced the challenge. But, I’m excited to get in a place that’s a little more hitter-friendly, neutral, whatever way you want to describe it.”

BASE HITS

— The honor of starting the D-backs’ Cactus League opener on Friday against the Colorado Rockies goes to right-hander Matt Koch. He made one appearance last season and is 1-1 in eight career games, including two starts.

“Excited for him,” Lovullo said. “I know last year was a lean year for him because of some of the injuries that he walked through early, so we felt like it would be special for him to start tomorrow and get a new start to the 2018 season.”

— Only a handful of regulars are expected to be in the lineup for Game 1.

Lovullo announced Chris Herrmann (catcher), Ketel Marte (shortstop) and Chris Owings (designated hitter) will be among those playing.

“We feel like we have the right pieces tomorrow,” Lovullo said. “I’m going to give the bulk of the guys that you’re probably anticipating that should play tomorrow, give them another day off. So you’ll see that group most likely on Saturday.”

— Both the D-backs and Rockies, as well as all Major League Baseball teams, will be wearing caps of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Eagles baseball team during pregame on Friday. The caps will then be signed and auctioned to benefit funds related to assisting victims and family of the tragic shooting on Feb. 14.

“I think it’s a great idea. The fact that Major League Baseball is going to support that is something that I’m personally very proud of. To be a part of that, one small piece of that, and do what we can to support that community, I’m in favor of it,” Lovullo said.

“Any time you see the loss of lives, and especially at such a young age, it’s painful. It’s very, very painful.”

Added Souza Jr.: “I grieve with them. I took the time one day after the tragedy to read every bio of the kids that had passed away and really just got emotional over — I have a son who’s 14 months (old) — not even knowing what it would be like to lose a child like that.

“It’s just really an honor to go out there and in any way we possibly can to know that for that city, that county, that high school, that we’re standing with them.”

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