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D-Backs Spring Training preview
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01/30/2003 6:50 pm ET 
D-Backs Spring Training preview
Club looks to fill in behind Johnson and Schilling
By Rich Draper / MLB.com

Miguel Batista will battle for a rotation spot during Spring Training. (Roy Dabner/AP)
Related links:
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The value of real estate will see a dramatic jump in Tucson, Ariz., this spring.

Sorry, realtors -- we're not talking housing. The hottest piece of property in town will be a little pile of well-groomed dirt at Tucson Electric Park, where a host of prospective "owners" will bid to make it their office space.

Yep, the pitching mound.

This mix of southwestern clay and soil will be the focal point of the Arizona Diamondbacks when Spring Training opens Feb. 14, and not just because baseball's two best pitchers -- Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling -- work there.

A cadre of other contenders for the starting rotation are out to prove they also belong on the hill, and this version of "Survivor: The Desert" will be the most anticipated show in February and March.

As D-Backs fans know, the Big Two won an amazing 47 games last season, 48 percent of the team's victories last season. This is far too heavy a burden for two pitchers, great as they are, and as eager for the load that they are.

So why not a Big Three, a Big Four ... a Big Five?

The other hurlers -- Brian Anderson, Miguel Batista and Rick Helling -- had earned-run averages of 4.79, 4.29 and 4.51 respectfully, if not respectably, last season.

Too iffy. Their only consistency was in their inconsistency.

Batista, 8-9, who did receive poor run support at times, is assured a starting spot somewhere, but Anderson and Helling are gone, leaving rookie John Patterson, newcomer Elmer Dessens and reliever Byung-Hyun Kim as the top rotation candidates.

Dessens (7-8 over 30 starts) was impressive for the Reds last year, his 3.03 ERA ranked sixth-best in the league, but Patterson is eyeing that coveted No. 3 starting slot as well after his 2-0 record and 3.23 ERA over seven games last year.

The most intriguing choice is Kim, who turned 24 on Jan. 19, and has often begged for a starting role while going 8-3 with a remarkable 2.04 ERA and 36 saves in 2002.

Manager Bob Brenly says the under-slinging, karate-kicking, change-style-on-a-whim Kim will definitely get his shot.

"The idea is we're going to stretch him out, and if it ends up that he deserves a spot in the starting rotation because of his performance in Spring Training then he'll get that opportunity," said Brenly.

Kind of hedging his bets, yes. But Kim, a superstar in his native Korea, made it clear he's ready for the challenge with excellent outings in 2002. What forestalled the change was former closer Matt Mantei undergoing Tommy John surgery and rehabbing last year.

Should Mantei prove he's 100 percent healthy this spring, it allows Kim to get his wish.

"We're counting on that," said Brenly of Mantei's return. "I thought he made great strides at the end of the season. By all reports, he's doing real well this winter."

The caveat, of course, is whether having both Kim and Mantei in the bullpen benefits the club, with Mantei a right-handed setup guy opposite lefty Mike Myers. That's a formidable duo.

"Kim may end up pitching in the bullpen again," cautioned Brenly. "And if Mantei is capable of stepping back in that closer's role that just makes us a much deeper bullpen than we were."

Dessens, 30, should do well behind Arizona's good-hitting lineup (at .267, third-best in the league; Cincy was 12th at .253) and will face his stiffest competition from Patterson.

"That's my goal, to be the No. 3 starter," said Patterson, who has gained 10 pounds of muscle after rigorous offseason workouts with a personal trainer.

Patterson is also throwing in a program devised by Schilling, who has reportedly lost about 20 pounds from last season through pilates, weight lifting and other training. Schilling struggled during September of 2002 and felt that a lack of overall fitness played a role.

Also vying for bullpen spots are Eddie Oropesa and Armando Reynoso, who were invited back to Spring Training, along with new inked veterans Ron Villone, Mike Jackson, Ricky Bottalico and Manny Aybar.

Elsewhere, the team is identical to last year's, save for first base with the departure to Oakland of Erubiel Durazo. Rookie Lyle Overbay has a shot at becoming the starter under the tutelage of veteran Mark Grace, who would be a valuable fill-in and pinch-hitter.

The return of Craig Counsell from neck surgery would be a boost to the infield, where third baseman Matt Williams is expected to serve as a part-time starter, and youngster Alex Cintron must show improved hitting skills. Veteran All-Star infielder Carlos Baerga has also been added to the mix.

If Danny Bautista and Luis Gonzalez also come back strong from injuries, they would man the outfield corners around returning center fielder and Gold Glover Steve Finley.

Rich Draper is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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