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Position battles to dominate attention at D-backs' camp

Hale has many decisions to make in first spring as skipper

PHOENIX -- Plenty of things will be different for the Arizona Diamondbacks as Spring Training gets underway this week.

For one, the start date has changed. Pitchers and catchers report Thursday, two weeks later than they did last year when the D-backs opened the regular season against the Dodgers on March 22-23 in Sydney.

In that disjointed spring, the D-backs played Spring Training games, flew to Australia for two regular-season contests and then came back to Arizona for another week of exhibition games.

This year's camp will have a different look to it, because for the first time in four years it will not be run by Kirk Gibson. Dismissed with three games left in the season last year, Gibson was replaced by Chip Hale.

This also will be Tony La Russa's first spring in charge of the baseball operations department as well as Dave Stewart's inaugural camp as general manager.

"He'll have a huge impact," Hale said of La Russa's influence on the structure of camp. "I mean, we want to build the Spring Training out of my experiences with Bob [Melvin] and where I've been and [La Russa's] experiences building World Series champions. I want all the input I can get from him and [pitching consultant] Dave Duncan. I think I would not be very smart if I didn't take their advice. He's been really good about just suggesting things that he thought really helped their clubs to get off to better starts and stuff like that."

The biggest question the D-backs will have to answer during Spring Training is what the makeup of the starting rotation will be. Aside from Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson there are no locks and there are no shortage of candidates. Some include Chase Anderson, Robbie Ray, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Watson, Andrew Chafin, Trevor Cahill, Vidal Nuno, Daniel Hudson, Randall Delgado, Yoan Lopez and Archie Bradley.

"I'm looking for Spring Training to be a lot of competition among those guys," Hale said of his starters.

Then there's the issue of how the infield will shake out. Right now Paul Goldschmidt is set at first, but there will be competition at the other positions. The D-backs will try Yasmany Tomas at third, but Jake Lamb will also get a look there and Aaron Hill might also be an option if he doesn't win the second-base job.

Depending on how those battles are resolved, Chris Owings could play shortstop or second base with Nick Ahmed and Cliff Pennington also in the mix.

The D-backs are hopeful that the changes will add up to a marked improvement over last year's 64-98 record.

"I think a lot of guys who were on the club last year are ready to get that bad taste out of their mouth," Hale said. "I think they want to show that they were better than they were last year."

Pitchers and catchers report
Thursday, Feb. 19

Full squad reports
Tuesday, Feb. 24

First Spring Training game
At Rockies (Salt River Fields), Wednesday, March 4, at 1:10 p.m. MT

Opening Day
Home vs. Giants, Monday, April 6, at 7:10 p.m. MT

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.
Read More: Arizona Diamondbacks, Josh Collmenter, Paul Goldschmidt, Jeremy Hellickson