Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Rotation key to title hopes

Starters will help Arizona challenge L.A.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb throws during a spring training game in Tucson.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb throws during a spring training game in Tucson.

There’s no question Arizona has the starting pitching to capture the National League West title in 2009.

But do the Diamondbacks have enough of everything else?

What about the bullpen? Will the return of outfielder Eric Byrnes help or hinder the D’backs?

Arizona (82-80) finished second to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008, and most experts are picking L.A. to win the division again this year.

“We expect our pitching to be our strength, especially our starting pitching,” Arizona manager Bob Melvin said. “That’s the way it has been around here for a while.”

Brandon Webb, who was second in the Cy Young balloting last season, leads a strong starting staff consisting of Dan Haren, Doug Davis, Jon Garland and Max Scherzer.

Arizona enters the season with its second closer in as many years since trading Jose Valverde. Last year’s save leader Brandon Lyon has been replaced by Chad Qualls.

If Qualls, who has never held the role for a full season, falters, the D’backs have Jon Rauch and Tony Peña to fall back on.

Arizona may have found its leadoff batter in newly acquired Felipe Lopez, but at what price? The D’backs let two-time Gold Glove winner Orlando Hudson flee to the Dodgers.

“(Lopez) is going to be a big help for us this season,” Melvin said.

Conor Jackson, who batted over .300 at each of his minor league stops, hit exactly .300 with 12 homers for Arizona last year.

The D’backs have something if Byrnes, Justin Upton, Chris Young, Chad Tracy and Mark Reynolds can follow Jackson’s lead and hit for a higher average.

“Our offense is going to do better this year,” Melvin said. “We’re going to do better in situations where we have to get the job done. I think everyone is a little more calm at the plate to where we can take on that challenge.”



Colorado at Arizona, 12:40 p.m. Monday TV: FSNA Radio: 1490 AM

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