SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Didi Gregorius is the incumbent.
Chris Owings is the up-and-comer.
And then there’s Cliff Pennington.
He’s the other player, perhaps even the forgotten player in the three-man race to decide the Diamondbacks starting shortstop, the one real intriguing battle in spring training — at least among starting position players.
Flying under the radar is something Pennington has done his entire big league career, be it the five years he spent in Oakland or last year, his first, in Arizona.
“We’re going out there doing what we do. It’s spring training. We’re all trying to get ready — just trying to do what I do to get ready,” he said.
As far as the competition between he, Gregorius and Owings? Pennington is paying little, if any, attention to the matter.
“All that stuff, it’s fun to talk about, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be what it is,” he said.
Pennington, of course, is right. All he and the others can do is control what they can control and leave the decision on starting shortstop to the decision-makers, general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson.
Of the three, Pennington, who turns 30 in June, has the most experience. He’s made 493 starts at shortstop compared to 101 for Gregorius and 10 for Owings.
Despite having more service time, Pennington does not believe that gives him an edge over his two main competitors. But it may give the entire team an advantage.
“Everybody on this team is trying to pull the ropes the same way,” he said. “We’re all trying to help each other out. Obviously, we’ve got the two really good, talented, young shortstops. Hopefully I can help them both learn some things and we can get better together and all help each other and become better players, all three of us.”
It’s not unlike what Mark Ellis did for him when the two were teammates with the A’s.
“(He) helped me a lot with just little nuances of the game and how to get better and be a better player,” Pennington said.
Even if he misses out on the starting job, Pennington’s odds of having a job with the Diamondbacks are excellent. He has also played both second base and third base, giving the roster flexibility. Plus as a switch-hitter, he gives Gibson versatility off the bench.
Pennington batted .278 (5-for-18) as a pinch hitter, but it was his late-game heroics (.529, 9-for-17 with three RBI in extra innings), including walk-off singles against the Cardinals (April 3) and Rangers (May 27) that really stood out.
“I hope so, obviously,” he said of having some kind of a role in 2014. “That’s what you want to be. You want to be in the big leagues. You want to be playing. That’s the goal. That’s what we work for.”