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D-backs pitching still a huge question mark

The Diamondbacks have officially settled on their pitching rotation for this season, but settled is completely relative to a group that underwhelmed during spring training.

Right-hander Ian Kennedy is expected to start Opening Day for the D-backs and will be followed in the rotation by Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders, Barry Enright and Armando Galarraga.

Galarraga was announced over Aaron Heilman for the fifth spot by manager Kirk Gibson on Monday.

It is tough to judge a starting rotation by their spring performance, but the projected starters for the D-Backs are averaging a 6.36 ERA while surrendering 13.6 runs over 20.3 innings each so far in 2011.

In contrast, the World Series Champion and National League West divisional rival San Francisco Giants are averaging a 4.47 ERA while surrendering five runs over 18.5 innings each.

The Diamondbacks pitched an average of two innings less per starter and don’t have two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum, but the trend of Arizona’s starting pitching so far this year is rough at best.

D-backs GM Kevin Towers said he remains optimistic about the pitchers.

“Who knows once the season starts but with young pitchers you always hope that they get better rather than worse,” Towers said.

“If they improve on what they did last year, I think they’ll throw very well this year for us. It’s a nice blend of youth and a couple of veteran guys.”

Kennedy, Hudson and Enright all finished spring training with respectable numbers.

None had an ERA over five or surrendered more than 15 earned runs but the outings from Saunders and Galarraga were nightmarish.

Saunders averaged a brutal 12.51 ERA over five games, allowing 19 earned runs. Galarraga was slightly better, but still had a 7.36 ERA in six games with 18 earned runs.

For perspective on the back end of the pitching situation, Galarraga barely beat out Heilman, who had a 7.03 ERA over seven games while giving up 19 earned runs and seven home runs.

Not exactly an ideal situation.

The Diamondbacks have insisted throughout the spring that each position is fluid with a number of openings around the field after a disappointing 65-97 record.

However, for all the time and resources spent this winter on improving the rotation, there is still significant concern over who will produce on the mound.

Manager Kirk Gibson acknowledged getting better is a process with no particular timetable but said there is no way of sugarcoating the team’s play this spring.

“We haven’t pitched well overall this spring. We haven’t shut people down when we needed to so we need to have a discussion on it,” Gibson said.

A discussion the Diamondbacks needs to “settle” quickly.