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D-backs’ Eric Hinske thriving in pinch-hitting role

Eric Hinske hasn’t wasted any time fitting in during his first season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’s got the relaxed personality and makeup of a savvy veteran. He knows when to focus and when to keep it light, and he can get the job done when called upon.

“He brings a different element,” said manager Kirk Gibson before the game on Monday. “He’s very loose, he’s very focused at the time but he also keeps everybody loose. He’s had great at-bats.”

One of those at-bats came in the 11th inning of Sunday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

After sitting on the bench for the first 10 innings of the contest, the utility infielder/outfielder was called upon to bat in the pitcher’s spot. Hinske promptly hit the game-winning, two-run home run off John Axford, giving the D-backs a three-game sweep of Milwaukee and the third 5-1 start in team history.

“I’ve been able to get him on some good match-ups,” said Gibson. “(John Axford) threw him three breaking balls. That’s one of the things about veteran guys, that’s a very dangerous thing to do and he made him pay for it. Especially, if you’re going to do it, you gotta make sure it’s a damn good pitch.”

Hinske has spent time with seven major league clubs since being selected in the 17th round by the Chicago Cubs in the 1998 amateur draft. He was also named MLB Rookie of the Year in 2002 while with the Blue Jays.

While it’s not an easy role, it’s safe to say Hinske’s well-traveled career has prepared him to succeed as a pinch-hitter.

“The whole game’s hard. It’s challenging. It’s like being a kicker in the NFL, is that a hard job? I look at it as a glorious spot to be in,” said Gibson. “It’s just I guess how you process it. He has the credentials to do the job well.”

Gibson knows that Hinske would love to be an everyday player. He’s spent time at first, third, right and left field during his career, but he’s also a valuable piece for this club coming off the bench in key situations.

“I considered playing him (Tuesday), but I told him I wasn’t going to because I think he’s 4-for-6 off (James) McDonald. He says, ‘Well, what do I have to get in the lineup?’ and I told him ‘I like you just where you are.'”

The 35-year-old, who signed with the D-backs back in December, has batted .222 in his career as a pinch-hitter, but he does have nine home runs and 39 RBI.

Gibson thinks Hinske has a pretty good gig right now.

“That’s a great job,” said Gibson. “You get to sit there and prepare and watch and be a good teammate and you get a chance to win the game. I think that’s a pretty good job.”