SAN DIEGO – With a struggling offense and the Giants creeping closer, the mood and temperament in the Diamondbacks clubhouse was less than enthusiastic.
That’s why left-hander Joe Saunders’ latest assignment seemed rather critical.
With a three game losing streak and one run in its first two games here of a weekend series, the D-backs needed energy from any source.
While Saunders remained solid, home runs from Miguel Montero and Paul Goldschmidt lifted the spirits and the Diamondbacks came away with 5-1 victory before 30,781 at Petco Park.
Saunders was particularly effective in the hour when the D-backs needed a strong effort. In going 8 2/3 innings, he allowed seven hits and one, unearned run. Saunders improved to 12-12 and lowered his ERA to 3.66. Over his last five starts, he is 4-1 with a 2.12 ERA.
“Huge win for us,” he said afterward. “With the Giants winning, we knew we had to bring our A game. I think we were pressing a little. Just said to myself, relax and pitch your game.”
Saunders came within one out of his second complete game of the season. In the ninth, he gave way to closer J. J. Putz, who struck out pinch hitter Nick Hundley, with runners on second and third, to end the game. For Putz, this was his 41st save of the season, and set a career high for most saves in a career.
“In in the ninth, I tried to finish them with the fastball, but they’re a scrappy team,” Saunders said in letting up two, ninth inning singles before exiting. “I wasn’t disappointed taken out because I know we have two guys behind me who are the best. I have all the confidence in David (Hernandez) and J. J.”
Manager Kirk Gibson echoed Saunders’ observation of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen.
“That’s why Putz is here,” the manager pointed out. “With Hundley up in that situation, that was the way to go.”
Down 1-0, the Diamondbacks rallied to record their 45th come-from-behind win of the season. That leads the majors, and ahead of the Rockies (40), Brewers (40), Red Sox (40), the Phillies (38), and the Reds (38).
First. Montero’s blast to right center in the fourth tied the game, and then Goldschmidt’s rocket over the right field fence in the sixth put the D-backs into a lead they did not relinquish.
Goldschmidt also had a run-producing single in the seventh and a sacrifice fly in the ninth to tie a career mark most RBIs in a game (three).
“The home run came on the first pitch and it was a fast ball,” Goldschmidt said. (Padres starter Aaron Harang) likes to throw it up in the strike and I saw it. Overall, it’s nice to get some RBIs because earlier in the game, I didn’t do the job.”
The reference here was to the first inning when Goldschmidt grounded to third with runners on first and second and two outs.
With the win, the Diamondbacks reduced the magic number to five with nine games to play, all at Chase Field. The Giants continue their present road trip with three in Los Angeles and three at Chase Field. They are off Monday Sept. 19 while the D-backs play the Pirates at home.
By the time the Giants resume play on Tues. Sept. 20, the magic number could be reduced further. That’s because Ian Kennedy is slated to go for his 20th win of the season. He failed in his previous start to reach 20 on Sept. 13 against the Dodgers.
THE PARRA FACTOR
When the Diamondbacks signed Xavier Nady in this past off-season, the expectation was to fill a gaping hole in left field.
Though Nady played first base with his most recent team the Chicago Cubs last season, his experience as a productive outfielder flashed on the D-backs radar screen.
When Nady arrived at Salt River for training camp, it was quickly discovered he lacked the mobility. At that point, manager Kirk Gibson moved Nady to first base, and inserted Gerado Parra in left field.
The move looks to be one of the cornerstones of the Diamondbacks success this season. In addition to hitting .296 with 10 games left in the season, Parra’s current average monitor’s his minor league career.
In the changing line-up which is part of Gibson’s approach to his team, Parra now is positioned near the top of the order. With the National League West Division still not clinched, Gibson eschews all discussion of post-season play, and where Parra might hit in the batting order.
“I put him eighth to bring him along,” Gibson said just before the D-backs closed out their series in San Diego Sept. 18. “Now, I can move him around. He’s responded well and we’ve won 77 (Arizona’s season record 87-65 ) when he played well.”
Aside from swinging the bat well, Parra has also demonstrated a strong arm from the gardens. His 11 assists is tied with Matt Kemp of the Dodgers and one behind the NL leader Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies. Perhaps Parra’s telling moment occurred when he threw out two Atlanta runners in the same inning on May 19.
Because centerfielder Chris Young (through 2013) and right fielder Justin Upton (through 2015) are under contract for the next few years, Parra could help to form one of the best outfielders in baseball.
At this point in his fledgling career, Parra could appear set as the Diamondbacks left fielder. That is, if the D-backs can sign him. After this season, Parra is a free agent and after demonstrating what his bat and arm can do, the native of Santa Barbara del Zuila, Venezuela will likely listen to potential suitors.
CLOSING THE BOOKS ON THE ROAD
With the win at Petco Sept. 18, the Diamondbacks finished with its’ fifth best road record in franchise history. This also marks the first winning season on the road since 2005.
Overall, the Diamondbacks finished 43-38 away from Chase Field and hit .238 as a team. Last season, they hit .238 on the road and finished 25-56.
Teams go with a five man rotation throughout the season, but post-season play alters this set-up dramatically.
With travel days and dictates by national television commitments, rotations are down to four. For the Diamondbacks, that would mean rookie Wade Miley is likely the odd man out.
Here, Gibson will go with Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter, Kennedy and Saunders.
“We’ve had discussions about this,” Gibson acknowledged prior to taking on the Padres Sept. 18. “Right now, we’re strong on the five man rotation, but we’ll see what’s going on.”
With an open day this Thursday Sept. 22, Gibson could structure his rotation to fit a possible playoff scenario. The Diamondbacks end their schedule at home on Wed. Sept. 28, and would have two days off before start of the NL Division series.
The series will begin on Sat. Oct. 1 with game two on Sunday Oct. 2. The D-backs could open in Philadelphia or entertain the wild card team, most likely Atlanta at this point. To host the Braves, they would have to finish with a better record than Milwaukee.