Webb, Cook meet in season opener at Arizona
April 5, 2009
PHOENIX ” For the fourth straight season, Brandon Webb will be the opening day starter for the Arizona Diamondbacks. For once, though, he’ll be at home.
The Arizona ace takes the mound against Colorado’s Aaron Cook on Monday when the Diamondbacks open their season at home for the first time since 2005.
It’s the first of 18 home games ” out of 22 overall ” in April for Arizona, beginning with a nine-game stand that includes visits by the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals.
First, though, it’s the Rockies and Cook. He’s the unquestioned leader of the Colorado staff with Jeff Francis out because of season-ending shoulder surgery.
It will be the second opening day start for Cook (16-9, 3.96 ERA), who had a career-high in wins last year. His first opening day start was two seasons ago.
“It’s part of the maturing process,” Cook said before the Rockies worked out at Chase Field on Sunday. “Last year I was able to pitch well enough that Clint (Hurdle) decided to give me opening day. But I’ve got to go out there and treat it like every other start. Hopefully I’ll get 34, 35 of them this year and there’s not one that’s going to mean more than the other. I’ve got to go out there with that sort of attitude.”
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Cook won’t get wrapped up with who’s on the mound for the other team.
“Me and Webb have faced each other probably about seven or eight times in our careers,” he said, “He’s an ace pitcher, Cy Young, last year he pitched great. You’ve got to go out not worrying about who’s on the mound for the other team. I’ve got to worry about keeping our team in the game.”
Webb (22-7, 3.30 ERA) led the NL in victories last year and was runner-up for the Cy Young Award for the second season in a row. He won it in 2006.
With one of the best 1-2 pitching punches in baseball, Arizona will send Dan Haren (16-8, 3.33) to the mound against Colorado on Tuesday night.
“We expect our pitching to be our strength, especially our starting pitching,” manager Bob Melvin said. “That is the way it has been around here for a while.”
Melvin’s opening day lineup will be a bit different than his normal everyday look. He will start Eric Byrnes in right field in place of Justin Upton and shift Chad Tracy from first base to third, with Tony Clark getting the start at first.
Upton and regular third baseman Mark Reynolds will sit, but only for one day, Melvin said.
“I talked early on this spring about getting some left-handed bats in against some of the tougher right-handed pitchers in the league,” Melvin said, “and this guy profiles out as that. Tony’s got a couple of homers off him, Byrnsie hits over .300 against him. So I talked to Mark and Justin today. Obviously they want to play, but they understand.”
Melvin expects Reynolds and Upton to be back in the lineup Tuesday night against Colorado’s Ubaldo Jimenez (12-12, 3.99). Melvin said the lineup changes are an example of the team’s versatility.
“It’s a little coincidental that it’s opening day that I get an extra left-handed bat in there,” he said, “but Chad’s healthy enough to do it at third. We have a left-hander on the third game (Franklin) Morales, you’ll see a lot of right-handed bats in there.”
The Rockies bolstered their bullpen on Sunday by acquiring right-hander Jason Hammel from Tampa Bay for minor league pitcher Aneury Rodriguez.
The Diamondbacks could be getting some bullpen assistance in a few weeks, too. Veteran Tom Gordon, bothered by a sore arm the last 2 1/2 seasons, threw 60 pain-free pitches in a bullpen session on Sunday. Melvin said Gordon might have one more bullpen outing before facing hitters.
“We’re definitely on schedule,” Melvin said, “and if everything remains the way it is right now and physically he’s fine after every one, certainly May 1 is realistic, potentially a little before that.”
Colorado will have a pair of new everyday starters in center fielder Ryan Spilborghs and left fielder Seth Smith. Smith replaces big-hitting All-Star Matt Holliday, traded to Oakland in the offseason.
Arizona features a new second baseman in Felipe Lopez, signed as a free agent to take the place of departed Gold Glover Orlando Hudson.
Unfortunately for Webb, Colorado still has Brad Hawpe, who has a career .340 average against the Arizona ace. Eight of Hawpe’s 16 hits against Webb went for extra bases ” two doubles, two triples and four home runs.
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