Homers, Webb pace D-backs
Solo shots by Young, Byrnes and Salazar provide difference
CINCINNATI -- Monday was the beginning of a new season, but it certainly looked like the same old, same old for the D-backs.
Arizona got good starting pitching and scored just enough runs to turn a lead over to the back end of the bullpen, and the result was a 4-2 win over the Reds in front of a sold-out crowd at Great American Ball Park.
"[It was] similar to the way we somewhat drew it up last year," D-backs manager Bob Melvin said.
The 2007 D-backs won a National League-best 90 games and made it to the NL Championship Series following that formula. These D-backs have a long way to go to get there, but there were some very encouraging signs on Opening Day.
First, Webb put his bad spring behind him and instead showed the form of the pitcher who finished second in the NL Cy Young Award balloting last year. The right-hander allowed just two runs on three hits over six innings.
"He did his job," Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "Give it to him. He's their No. 1 starter for a reason. He showed us today. We have to make sure we write down what he threw us this time, and then when we face him again later this season, we have to [get] him."
The tough thing about plotting revenge is Webb has mastered his changeup and curveball to the point that he can mix them in whenever he wants. And if he gets ahead -- like he was doing Monday -- he can throw either pitch with two strikes to put a hitter away.
"Today, the key to his effectiveness was he'd get two strikes and then use his changeup," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "His changeup has gotten a lot better than it was in the past."
While it was a road game for the D-backs, it was really a homecoming for Webb, who grew up in nearby Ashland, Ky. He left about 28 tickets for family and friends, but he said there appeared to be more than that yelling encouragement when he went to warm up in the bullpen before the game.
"I swear they sneak in," Webb said with a smile.
"About half of [the crowd] was from his hometown," Baker said.
They got to see the D-backs give Webb a first-inning lead thanks in part to third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, whose throwing error allowed Orlando Hudson to reach first. A wild pitch moved Hudson to second and with two outs, then Conor Jackson grounded a 1-0 pitch from starter Aaron Harang back up the middle to give Arizona a 1-0 advantage.
"Conor got us off to a good start in the first inning," Melvin said. "He didn't try to do too much with that pitch."
The D-backs stretched the lead to 3-0 in the third thanks to solo homers by Chris Young and Eric Byrnes.
In the process, the D-backs ran up Harang's pitch count, forcing the Reds' ace to throw 66 pitches in the first three innings. Harang was able to get back on track by using his breaking ball a little more after that and threw just 33 pitches over his final three innings to keep the D-backs at bay.
The Reds, though, were able to get on the board in the fourth, when they scored a pair of runs off Webb. After a leadoff walk to Ken Griffey Jr., Phillips hit a bullet into center field that appeared to skip on the wet grass and get by Young for a triple. Adam Dunn followed with an RBI groundout to cut the lead to 3-2.
Much like he did last season, when he won the NL Manager of the Year Award, Melvin pushed all the right buttons in this one -- his 400th career victory.
With Webb at 90 pitches through six innings, Melvin decided to send Jeff Salazar up to hit for him in the seventh, and Salazar came through with a home run off Jared Burton to give Arizona a 4-2 lead.
It was the third career home run by Salazar. All three have come as a pinch-hitter.
"I don't know if I want to continue that trend or not," said Salazar, smiling. "I was trying to be patient and pick out a good pitch to hit. I was able to get the barrel to it and it caught the sweet spot. All the power came from [Burton]."
Then, as they did so many times last season, the D-backs turned things over to the bullpen. Instead of Tony Pena, Brandon Lyon and Jose Valverde pitching the seventh, eighth and ninth -- as they did so many times in 2007 -- this time it was Chad Qualls, Pena and Lyon who wrapped things up.
Lyon's perfect ninth, which included a pair of strikeouts, was particularly important given the way he struggled during the spring. In nine Cactus League games, he allowed a 13.50 ERA, though he looked better in his final couple of outings, as his velocity increased from the mid-80s to the lower 90s. On Monday, he touched 93 on the radar gun.
"I was feeling like I was getting back to myself," Lyon said of his final two spring appearances. "I guess that's all you can ask is to go into the season with some momentum. Towards the end, I felt like my stuff was coming back and everything was coming together."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.