ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Diamondbacks SS Nick Ahmed feels ‘really good’ to begin 2017

Mar 27, 2017, 7:08 PM | Updated: Mar 28, 2017, 11:25 am
Texas Rangers' Drew Robinson steals second as Arizona Diamondbacks' Nick Ahmed applies the late tag...

Texas Rangers' Drew Robinson steals second as Arizona Diamondbacks' Nick Ahmed applies the late tag during the third inning of a spring training baseball game, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Like many, Nick Ahmed enjoyed playing baseball as a kid.

Unlike many, however, Ahmed found himself drawn to the fielding aspect of the game.

“Lot of guys growing up, they just want to hit and want to hit and don’t really care about defense. I always loved it,” he said. “I would beg my dad early on when I was a little kid to come out in the backyard and just hit me ground balls, so it’s something I always loved doing and took pride in and still do to this day.”

All those backyard ground balls later and Ahmed is considered one of the better defensive shortstops in the game. Yet, less than a week before Opening Day, he’s not officially won the starting job, let alone secured a spot on the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 25-man roster.

Ahmed remains locked in a three-man competition with Ketel Marte and Chris Owings.

Manager Torey Lovullo has said, and repeated as much on Monday prior to the D-backs’ 4-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Salt River Fields, that he would like to have his roster set before the team breaks camp mid-week.

So, for now, three players compete for one spot.

“It’s a good thing we have depth and we have a bunch of good guys,” Ahmed said. “You’re never going to win a championship with just 25, so we’re lucky to have that good depth, and we’ll see how things turn out.”

Barring an injury, one possible solution to the logjam at shortstop is a trade.

In recent weeks, the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres reportedly have all shown interest in Ahmed should he be the odd man out. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal followed those rumors with a report that Arizona is “not shopping Ahmed” because he can still be optioned to the minors.

Ahmed, entering his fourth big-league season, said he’s aware of the possibility of being traded, but for right now, his focus is the D-backs.

Besides, dealing with trade speculation pales in comparison to what Ahmed dealt with last season and much of the season before: a right hip injury.

Ahmed finally succumbed to the injury in August and underwent season-ending surgery.

Seven months later, Ahmed is smiling.

“I feel really good. I’m excited to be healthy,” he said, standing in front of his stall inside the clubhouse. “No more pain, no more pinching. Everything feels good. I feel explosive and quick again. Hopefully, it’ll stay that way.”

So, how long has it been since Ahmed felt this good?

“Probably the middle of ’15, honestly,” he said. “(The injury) started to bother me in some different areas and some other parts of my body started to break down, I think, because of the hip looking back now. I had a little quad issue and some things I dealt with at the end of ’15 and then spring training last year it started to bother me in the hip.

“I haven’t felt good in a long time, but now I’m excited. I feel really good this year.”

And the results prove it, especially at the plate.

As a late-inning replacement against the Angels on Monday, Ahmed singled in the sixth and again in the eighth inning, giving him 14 hits in 55 at-bats over 20 games in Cactus League play.

While a .255 batting average isn’t great, it’s a significant improvement over a .218 mark he recorded last season when he was limited to 90 games.

“I feel like I work on all parts of my game equally. For whatever reason, I guess I haven’t hit great in the last year or so,” said Ahmed, a career .221 hitter. “People want to talk about me working on hitting more, I work on everything the same. Just trying to be consistent and learn from the great guys we have in here like (A.J.) Pollock and (Paul) Goldschmidt and (Jake) Lamb and just picking their brains and trying to get a little bit better every day.”

BASE HITS

— In what was his last Cactus League start, right-hander Shelby Miller pitched into the fifth inning, allowing two runs on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts. He was removed from the game after a one-out walk and with his pitch-count at 94.

Miller said he struggled with fastball command.

“I probably wasted, gosh, at least 10 pitches on heaters that I just messed up, that I was trying to go down and away with that they didn’t swing at so it wasn’t efficient at all,” he said. “But other than that, I felt good.”

— Outside of Zack Greinke pitching on Opening Day, the D-backs have not announced the order of their starting rotation. Lovullo said to expect that news to come later this week, likely Thursday following the team’s scheduled off day on Wednesday.

Lovullo did name right-hander Taijuan Walker and left-hander Robbie Ray as the starters for the D-backs’ two exhibition games against Cleveland on Thursday and Friday, respectively, at Chase Field.

— Among the five roster moves the D-backs made on Monday, Arizona reassigned pitcher Rubby De La Rosa to minor league camp. A starter in each of his prior two seasons with the team, De La Rosa is being groomed to be a reliever to help alleviate elbow issues he dealt with for much of last year.

“There’s no strategy for Rubby because we know that this is a rare situation,” Lovullo said when asked when De La Rosa might be major-league ready, “but he’s on a very good path right now.”

— Telling players they won’t break camp with the big-league club is never easy, according to Lovullo.

“I want to be as transparent and honest as possible,” he said, before adding, “and help them grow and let them know they need to get to work and do their job and not waste time.”

In addition to De La Rosa, catcher Hank Conger, outfielder Reymond Fuentes and infielder Kristopher Negron were reassigned to minor league camp. All four, however, will remain with the D-backs through the end of the week.

The Diamondbacks also released outfielder Gregor Blanco, who had been dealing with a strained oblique muscle. The eight-year MLB veteran signed a minor-league deal before spring and played his last five seasons with the San Francisco Giants.

Arizona has 32 players left in camp.

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