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PHOENIX It was all about pitching when the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired right-handers Zack Greinke and Shelby Miller before the 2016 season, and it was all about pitching when the team faltered.
Some of the starting pitching concerns have been assuaged by performances this spring, although the entire staff will have to take a step forward if the team is to be a contender in the rugged NL West after posting the highest ERA in the majors last year.
Miller and left-hander Patrick Corbin look to be returning to form, and new right-hander Taijuan Walker is showing signs that he might be ready to become a season-long rotation contributor, a step left-hander Robbie Ray took a year ago. Greinke's velocity was a touch under his normal early in the spring, but that seemed a minor issue for a veteran who uses spring training to round into form.
The D-backs' 2016 struggles led to a front-office overhaul over the winter, and new general manager Mike Hazen and manager Torey Lovullo are doing things a little differently, with more of an emphasis on an analytics.
"There is an overall excitement," Lovullo said. "We want to start a new business and see how it runs. The track record speaks for itself. Mike Hazen comes from a winning organization (in Boston)."
Second baseman Jean Segura was traded to Seattle for Walker, and power-hitting catcher Welington Castillo was permitted to leave via free agency as the D-backs turned their focus to the pitch-framing side of that position.
Segura was the only NL player with 200 hits a year ago, and Castillo set career highs in homers in 2015 and RBIs in 2016, so will be interesting to see if those losses can be offset by the return of center fielder A.J. Pollock and the position switch by Brandon Drury, who will replace Segura at second.
Paul Goldschmidt, Jake Lamb, Yasmany Tomas and a healthy Pollock he fractured his right elbow last spring and played only 12 games are a good starting point. Advanced metrics graded Pollock as the best center fielder in the NL in 2015, and his absence was crushing. He nursed a groin injury this spring, but it was not serious.
Drury had a strong rookie season when playing out of position in the corner outfield spots, and one major league talent evaluator has compared him to Jeff Kent at second. Right fielder David Peralta has played well this spring, his 2016 injuries a thing of the past.
Hazen's offseason objectives were to improve the bullpen and the defense, and veterans Fernando Rodney and non-roster invitees Tom Wilhelmsen and J.J. Hoover have pitched well this spring, Rodney while with the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Defense was addressed when Drury was moved to second and the decided to go glove-first behind the plate.
"I want these guys to be able to tell a really good story at the end of the year, and what that story is we're not sure," Lovullo said. "To be competitive means to focus, to be mentally tough and earn everything they get on the field. That's my expectation."