SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Buoyed by optimism that just about everyone is back from a 93-win team, pitchers and catchers began spring training workouts for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday.
Little was revealed, though, over the matter of whether the Diamondbacks truly have a shot at re-signing slugger J.D. Martinez.
A reporter astutely pointed out to manager Torey Lovullo that, in the clubhouse, there are vacant lockers between Nos .27 and 30. Martinez wears No. 28.
There was a lot of laughter from reporters and a pause from the manager.
“You guy pay attention,” Lovullo finally said. “Yeah, I think 28 and 29 are numbers that are available.”
But Lovullo had nothing to say about any progress in convincing Martinez to re-sign.
“Said it many times,” he said. “J.D. was a huge part of our ball club. I know there are 30 teams he’s available to. I’ll leave it at that. I don’t know anything else. I just know he was a main reason why we performed the way we did last season down the stretch.”
Conventional wisdom at the time was that Martinez priced himself out of the Diamondbacks’ salary scale with his monster half-season with Arizona, following his trade to the Diamondbacks from Detroit. It’s also true that Martinez has a long-term contract offer with Boston, but it’s smaller than he and agent Scott Boras believe is deserved. So there apparently has been some thought about coming back to Arizona, where he loved the clubhouse atmosphere and would get to play in the outfield rather than at his less-preferred role as designated hitter with the Red Sox.
He has said many nice things about the Diamondbacks.
“I don’t know exactly what he’s saying,” Lovullo said. “I’d just say the feeling is probably very mutual. If you’re saying he had some complementary things to say about this organization, we feel the same way. To be honest with you, it doesn’t surprise me. This is a special place. We believe in our players. We love our players. We allow our players to go out and perform and we enjoy their success as much as they do.”
The pitchers worked out in a cool, light rain — a far cry from the record-breaking heat of recent days — and there were plenty of familiar faces. The entire starting rotation of Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Patrick Corbin, Joaquin Walker and Zack Godley return.
“I’ve been on the record saying that our starting pitchers were a very, very strong reason for the success of our organization last year,” Lovullo said. “To get all those back healthy, ready, one more year experienced, is going to be a very good starting point for us. It doesn’t mean that we just go up to the starting line and run the race and expect to win. We’ve got to get back to who we believe and know that we are. I think that’s a good group to build around. We feel very good about our starters.”
Robbie Ray, 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 218 strikeouts in 28 games last season, loves the familiarity.
“This is pretty much the same team,” he said. “The core guys are back and we know what we need to do and we prepared for it last year and we’re going to prepare for it again last year.”
The Diamondbacks earned the No. 1 wild-card spot in the National League and beat Colorado before being swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS.
“The first year you don’t know what to expect with a new manager and front office but it was great,” Ray said. “The clubhouse dynamic was amazing. Just being able to come into this year and have that comfortability is great.”
A major chore this spring will be determining the back end of the bullpen. Closer Fernando Rodney is gone and there are at least three candidates — dynamic setup man Archie Bradley, newly acquired Brad Boxberger and Japanese acquisition Yoshi Hirano.
The wildly popular Bradley is undoubtedly the people’s choice but he was also extremely effective in the eighth inning role and might see it consistently expanded to more than one inning a la Cleveland’s Andrew Miller. Or he might win the closer job outright.,
“I think I’m a starter deep at heart but I just want the ball and I just want to win,” Bradley said. “So whatever role, whatever inning, let’ do it.”
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