Young D-backs headed in right direction
Arizona gaining steam as developing players get experience under first-year skipper Hale
DENVER -- D-backs manager Chip Hale gets it. Nobody said this big league manager gig was going to be easy.
It's one thing to take over a championship-caliber club or a team that is in a documented rebuilding process with an eye only on the future. It's quite another thing when a team is making a major transition to youth with a leadership that is used to winning, and is looking for a way to rebuild on the run.
And that's where the D-backs are.
This is an ownership group that created the position of chief baseball officer and then hired Tony La Russa, a Hall of Fame manager with a track record of winning divisions, pennants and World Series championships in 35 years that he filled out the lineup card for the White Sox, A's and Cardinals.
This is an ownership group that filled the general manager's job with Dave Stewart, the anchor to La Russa's rotation in Oakland and a competitor known for that death stare that he would put on the opposition.
Get the picture?
This is an ownership group that wants to win. But it also is a franchise where all the parts didn't really fit together at the big league level. So the decision was made that a rebuilding process had to be undertaken, but as well as an eye down the road the desire was to minimize the climb back to the top in the National League West.
And it's Hale, a first-time big league manager, who is in charge of the day-to-day mandate.
"You want to compete and try to win every game," said Hale. "[But] when you have young kids, you have to let them struggle. You have to let them make mistakes and learn from them."
So on a night like Wednesday, when there was a 46-minute rain delay prior to the first pitch, there was a special feeling of satisfaction for the D-backs in not just winning, but doing it by scoring three times in the ninth, pulling out an 8-7 victory.
Big deal, beating the Rockies, who are in last place in the NL West?
Sure is when it's a team that the previous times it went into the ninth inning trailing this season, it lost. Sure is when that rally comes against John Axford, who had given up only three runs in 20 1/3 previous innings this season and hadn't blown a save in exactly one year.
Sure is when the core of this team is young players. Yes, veteran catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia drew the bases-loaded walk to force in the game-tying run, and veteran Aaron Hill, displaced from his second-base job by Arizona's youth movement, got the pinch-hit call in the ninth and delivered the game-winning sacrifice fly.
Don't, however, ignore how the D-backs put themselves in position to win the game thanks to the focus that a lineup featuring seven regulars who are 27 or younger, has rookies in right field (Yasmany Tomas), at third base (Jake Lamb) and at shortstop (Nick Ahmed) along with Chris Owings , who is in the midst of moving to second base in his second season in the Majors.
Oh, and a rotation beset with injuries that include Archie Bradley , who made his latest rehab start at Triple-A Reno on Wednesday, and Patrick Corbin, who makes a rehab start on Friday at Double-A Mobile, leading to the earlier-than-anticipated arrival of offseason additions Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray.
"They have done a nice job," said Hale. "We have to remember that every start, they are not going to be perfect. It's a learning situation."
When Mariners ace Felix Hernandez gives up eight runs and retires only two batters in a recent start at Houston, it is shrugged off as one of those nights. When an unproven player has a bad night, the questions surface about whether he is ready to be in the big leagues.
"What you have to do is trust your development people and give the young players a chance," said Hale.
And it helps to be able to remember what it was like to be a young prospect.
"It is easy to remember those All-Star seasons in your career, but those years you were struggling to hit .260 at the All-Star break aren't as memorable," said assistant hitting coach Mark Grace. "You have to remind yourself it is not that easy."
It is, after all, the big leagues, where learning is important, but winning is the bottom line.