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First to open camp, D-backs intent on playoff return

McCarthy says core group of players will ensure team's 'locked in' all season long

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was a determined bunch of pitchers and catchers that reported to Salt River Fields on Thursday afternoon as the Arizona Diamondbacks became the first team to get things underway this spring.

After back-to-back 81-81 seasons, the D-backs are intent on getting back to the postseason as they did in 2011 when they surprised most baseball pundits by winning the National League West.

"I think there's a group of guys here that know exactly what they want," veteran pitcher Brandon McCarthy said. "Last year I think we were kind of getting there, but I think we didn't have that true leadership that really came through, and it's the one thing I've seen in just talking with guys so far. There's an idea of exactly what we want and I think we know how to implement that now."

Every spring, in every clubhouse, there is optimism and a vow that this year will be better than the last. However over the course of a long, grinding season that determination can get lost, or cast aside.

While not naming names, McCarthy said there will be a core group of players that are going to be responsible for making sure that does not happen.

"It was just kind of a floating mentality where you weren't locked in," McCarthy said of the clubhouse last season. "It's hard for people to emerge when you don't have one central thing that you're bonding around. This year I think it's there. There's a group of guys that know exactly what they want and it's just from Day 1 you either buy in or you're left behind. And if the right guys are there doing it, implementing it and they have that mentality every day, people will just join in. I think that's how you create a solid team that can do good things."

McCarthy and his teammates will face some unique challenges this spring.

The D-backs will open the regular season with a pair of games against the Dodgers on March 22-23 in Sydney, Australia. That meant the team had to open Spring Training a week ahead of schedule. In addition, there will be a longer lag time between when the full-squad reports Feb. 11 and the first game of the spring Feb. 26.

Then after the team returns from Australia it will have another week's worth of exhibition games before reopening the regular season March 31.

"We're excited to go to Sydney, it will be really cool to do, it'll be good for baseball. I think we're all excited to go," manager Kirk Gibson said. "I think the biggest challenge will be when we return, but we'll do what we can to make sure we recover very quickly."

In a nod to the longer than usual spring the D-backs have invited more players -- 67 -- than in the past. In fact there are so many players that some have to use an auxiliary locker room. The club is also having its Minor Leaguers report earlier than usual so that it has additional players for games.

"Because we have the extra length, we're going to be much more sensitive and to try and maybe not push them as hard and as long so we can be more on the prevention side with a lot of focus on the recovery side," Gibson said. "We're going to take some precautions to lighten things up on certain occasion. We're going to pay attention to not wearing guys down, to not getting too monotonous, too bored. We'll do some fun things."

One thing Gibson does not want to do is look back any longer at last season.

After a thorough review of last year during the offseason, the D-backs held two-plus days of organizational meetings earlier this week with the focus on the future.

"I think what's happened in the past from 2011 through the last two years, we've all taken and learned from that," Gibson said. "We all have ownership of what we're going to do and how we're going to handle ourselves."

That much, on Day 1, was certainly clear.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.

Arizona Diamondbacks, Brandon McCarthy