GOODYEAR, Ariz. Kirk Gibson cautions not to read too much into spring training lineups and positioning, as he knows from personal experience. One spring, Detroit manager Sparky Anderson played Gibson exclusively in center field. On opening day, Gibson was in right.
So while shortstop Willie Bloomquist led off and left fielder Jason Kubel hit fourth in the Diamondbacks' 8-7 split-squad victory over Cincinnati at Goodyear Ballpark on Sunday, that may not mean too much in the grand scheme of things.
"Privately in my own mind, I have thought about some drastic things, but I'm not going to share that. I'm open to anything," Gibson said of his lineup options.
A few things seem clear, or at least clearish, as the D-backs work toward opening day April 6.
As last season, Justin Upton is the most likely candidate to bat third to open the season, Gibson said. Jason Kubel has impressed and is a strong candidate to fill a production spot in the order. Paul Goldschmidt might hit in the lower half, at least early, in his first full season in the majors.
And as last season, Gibson is likely to mix and match depending on matchups, the opponents' bullpen situation, any number of factors. Gibson used 118 different lineups, 152 including starting pitchers, last year.
"I'm watching. I move guys around. I'll go into the season if I have to," Gibson said.
The D-backs finished 2011 with a pretty set middle of the order Aaron Hill hitting second, Upton third, Miguel Montero fourth, and Chris Young and Goldschmidt alternating between fifth and sixth. The addition of Kubel could shake that up a little.
Kubel averaged 19 home runs and 79 RBIs in the last five seasons with Minnesota, and he played just more than half a season in 2011. He hit .275 with two outs and runners in scoring position, with a .450 slugging percentage. His career slugging percentage with runners in scoring position is .489.
"He's interesting. Our (scouting) report says he's a 100-RBI, middle-of-the-lineup guy. I sure as hell hope so," Gibson said.
"I like what I see in Kubel. He's a great leverage situation guy. I like his approach. You watch how he takes pitches. You watch how he takes b.p. (batting practice)."
Montero developed into the D-backs' cleanup hitter in the final two months of 2011, and he hit .296 with six of his career-high 18 homers in 155 at-bats at No. 4. At the same time, Montero had virtually the same numbers while hitting fifth or sixth. He has hit cleanup in most of his spring starts.
"I'm sure open to it," Gibson said of hitting Montero cleanup. "Could I change it? Yeah."
Gibson often alternated left-handed and right-handed hitters in the lineup last season, especially when the opponents had several left-handed relievers available, in order to make it more difficult for an opposing manager to match up.
Upton had his best career season hitting third last year, and Gibson said, "It'll probably start out that way," although Gibson said he would like to see Upton get better in getting in runners for third base. Upton hit .235 with runners in scoring position a year ago.
Goldschmidt hit 40 home runs last season, 30 at Class AA Mobile and 10 with the D-backs after an Aug. 1 promotion, but the D-backs do not want to put too much on is plate too soon.
"Maybe not put so much pressure on him early," Gibson said.
WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
Left-hander Tyler Skaggs gave up one run and struck out five in three innings in his second spring start Sunday, getting strikeouts on all three of his pitches fastball, curveball and changeup. Skaggs got his last hitter, Paul Janish to swing through a changeup, calling it probably the best pitch I threw all day."
Skaggs retired the last seven batters he faced after an RBI single by Ryan Ludwick in the first inning.
"I felt like my changeup was pretty good, and the curveball was probably the best it's been so far. I wanted to get a feel for the curve ball and changeup today, because I feel last outing I could have put away some more hitters," he said.
If Skaggs' last pitch was his best, his best moment might have come in a conversation with Reds first baseman Joey Votto. Skaggs got Votto looking on a curve ball on a strikeout in the first, then reached first on a force play in the third.
"He's like 'Keep working hard, you'll be up soon,'" Skaggs said. "I came up through the minors watching that guy hit home runs and win the MVP. It was surreal."
Skaggs is scheduled to pitch in relief in the D-backs' game Saturday against Kansas City in Surprise, Gibson said. Trevor Cahill is to start and go five innings, and Skaggs is to pitch the last four.
"He's coming fast. We want him to get as much experience as he can," Gibson said.
Right-hander Josh Collmenter (0-1, 13.50 ERA) will make his third spring start against Oakland on Monday, facing former D-backs' prospect Jarrod Parker (1-1, 2.45) at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Wade Miley, Brad Ziegler, Takashi Saito and Mike Zagurski also are scheduled to pitch for the D-backs. Former D-back Jordan Noberto is among the relievers expected to follow Parker.
Trevor Cahill, J.J. Putz and Craig Breslow gave up home runs in Oakland's split-squad victory at Salt River Fields on Sunday. Cahill gave up a two-run homer to former A's battery mate Kurt Suzuki in the second inning and has given up four homers in eight spring innings over his three starts. Adam Eaton had a double and a triple and drove in three runs in Goodyear. His double to right-center drove in a run in the third inning, and his triple to right-center drove in two runs in the sixth. Eaton has two of the D-backs' four triples this spring. "He's aggressive. I'm giving him a lot of innings while he's here. He has a good attitude. He has a lot to learn," Gibson said.
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