ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Josh Collmenter looks to lead young, undecided Arizona Diamondbacks’ rotation

Feb 20, 2015, 12:24 AM | Updated: 12:51 am

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Most Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers and catchers — and plenty of position players, for that matter — have been hanging around Salt River Fields for a while now, but on Thursday, they reported for the official start of camp.

A feeling of freshness was as palpable as one of unfamiliarity in the clubhouse, where 39 pitchers and catchers reported Thursday morning. Part of that newness is no doubt customary to spring training; names like Tim Crabbe and Blake Lalli and Justin Marks and Dan Runzler and Matt Pagnozzi can be seen on nameplates at camp every spring. But that only muddles the fact that there was serious turnover in the organization since this time last year. Only 17 players from the D-backs’ 40-man roster entering spring of 2014 remained there Thursday.

Standing at his locker, enveloped by a throng of cameras and microphones, Josh Collmenter was one of that remnant.

“The beauty of it is we have jerseys, so the names are on the back,” he joked while discussing the changes.

Entering his fifth big league season with the D-backs, Collmenter is one of the few knowns on manager Chip Hale’s pitching staff. Collmenter was 11-9 in 28 starts last year, posting a 3.54 ERA. He spent most of the previous two seasons in the bullpen, making 77 total appearances and combining for a 3.41 ERA.

Beyond Collmenter, there are, indeed, mostly unknowns.

“We have I think 18 starters that we’re going to try to stretch out,” the first-year manager explained to media on Thursday. “So, realistically, probably for the five spots, 12, 13, 14 guys. We’d like to go what guys have done in the past, but in this situation, if a guy jumps out at us in spring training, he could jump himself right onto the team.”

Given the circumstances, many view Collmenter as Arizona’s Opening Day starter, though no such announcement is expected until near the end of spring training. The 29-year-old right-hander was asked about his role on the team this season, but was understandably hesitant to be too definitive. His tenure with the D-backs has been embroiled by turbulence; he’s been in and out of the bullpen, both a reliable starter and a spring training disappointment. It had to be strange to be the constant.

“It’s kind of been a revolving door for me as opposed to a one-way street,” he said. “And it’s exciting to be back in the rotation. Hopefully last year kind of solidified that.

“To potentially be Opening Day starter would be an incredible honor. (To have the chance) to get the season off on the right foot and get us some momentum going right out of the gate, who knows what will happen.”

Collmenter is far from a traditional front-end ace. His fastball averaged a modest 87 miles per hour in 2014 and his critics have often disparaged him for depending on a gimmicky delivery to get results. But he has qualms with the modern interpretation of an “ace.”

“(Being an ace) is more just a mentality,” he explained. “The term just kind of gets thrown on who everyone thinks is an ace, but yeah — you want to be able to set the tone and the example and just be a leader, whether it’s vocally or just by example or how you carry yourself.”

As Collmenter knows well, whether he’s at the top of the rotation or occupying the long spot in the bullpen, it’s results — not roles or perceptions — that matter.

“You’ve got to do your job, no matter if you’re 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 — and those numbers are almost as arbitrary as (random) numbers on a sheet of paper,” he went on. “Everybody has to pull their own weight and as a rotation, you kind of all want to be number ones you want to take the ball and hand it off to the next guy. And if hitting is contagious, pitching is just the same. You know, if one guy does well, you kind of just want to hand that over.”

It seems the D-backs will need something — whether a pitching virus, like Collmenter described, or a breakout year or two — to stimulate their rotation, which looks to have as many as 14 hurlers competing for four spots, as Hale pointed out.

This kind of openness — or uncertainty — in the rotation is unlike anything Collmenter has witnessed in baseball. But he sees that as a positive; he sees depth behind him.

“Usually, just one spot is up for grabs,” he explained. “It’s as wide a group of guys as I’ve seen.”

He’s embracing the belief that the opportunity will be healthy for all. Different groups make up the competition pool. There are a few who have been around, like Chase Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Vidal Nuño, Randall Delgado, even Daniel Hudson. There are the newcomers — former American League Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, Robbie Ray, Rubby de la Rosa, Allen Webster. And then there’s the prospects — Aaron Blair, Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, A.J. Schugel and Braden Shipley. (Pitchers Patrick Corbin and Bronson Arroyo are recovering from Tommy John surgery and are expected to rejoin the team at separate times during the regular season.

“Competition always fosters the best in everybody,” he continued. “So people are pushing at each other and the young guys are obviously nipping at the heels of everybody else. Baseball is a ‘what have you done for me lately?’ kind of sport, so you have to prove yourself time and time again. The more people you have competing for that, the better it is for everybody. I think it’s going to be good for the guys and I think it’s going to be good for the club.”

As for his own spot, he was careful to be diplomatic and humble. It was the very first day of camp, after all.

“We’ll see how spring training goes,” he said. “Obviously, you don’t have to make any decisions right now, so it’s ultimately going to be on what happens in spring. But just entertaining the thought is exciting and it will be a unique opportunity for myself.”

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