PHOENIX -- To his own surprise, Brandon Webb took the mound on Saturday afternoon for the first time since March 4.
Prior to the D-backs' evening game against the Cardinals, Webb headed out to the outfield grass at Chase Field to play catch, his normal routine while recovering from last summer's shoulder surgery. After 10-12 minutes of Webb tossing, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. led him to the bullpen.
Webb said Stottlemyre Jr. had been coy about his plan to get the right-handed pitcher onto the mound. Without his spiked cleats on, Webb threw 30 total fastballs, divided into two 15-pitch sessions.
"It felt good," Webb said of the impromptu step forward. "They said I looked way more comfortable, and I felt way more comfortable than I had on the mound, too. We're moving in the right direction. It's still a little ways away, obviously.
"Any little improvement or progression that I can take away from each day that I throw is good."
Webb said that changing his arm slot played a part in his recent progress. He added that he planned to play catch and throw off of the mound Wednesday.
"It's the beginning of what we hope to be a ball rolling in the right direction," manager A.J. Hinch said.
Webb last threw a pitch in a Major League game on Opening Day 2009. This season, he was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 4 and transferred to the 60-day DL on April 17.
Hits keep coming when Haren's at plate
PHOENIX -- Not only did Dan Haren throw eight stellar innings in the D-backs' 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday night, he also went 2-for-3 at the plate to raise his batting average to a whopping .425 (17 hits in 40 at-bats).
Manager A.J. Hinch has had to answer questions all season long about potentially moving Haren up from the lineup's ninth spot and even DH-ing him in American League ballparks. But Hinch doesn't seem to tire of answering.
"His balance and bat control is remarkable," Hinch said. "Hitters get hits."
Haren singled in Saturday's second inning and doubled and later scored in Arizona's three-run fourth.
"He should be hitting ahead of most of us," joked first baseman Adam LaRoche, who batted fifth and knocked out two home runs Saturday night. "He's obviously not your typical pitcher at the plate."
Haren will have to sit on the bench during his next outing -- the D-backs play the AL's Boston Red Sox next week -- but will no doubt enjoy a return to the batter's box when his club returns home.
"The hits have come pretty easy. Pitching hasn't exactly been that way this year," said Haren, whose ERA (4.61) remained uncharacteristically high. "It's kind of been reversed."
Montero activated, will be eased back
PHOENIX -- When Miguel Montero tore the meniscus in his right knee running down the first-base line on April 10, his D-backs were 3-1 and had hopes of climbing in the National League West.
Fifty-seven games later, with Arizona entering play 12 1/2 games back in its division, Montero was activated from the 15-day disabled list. To clear a spot for him on the 25-man roster, the D-backs optioned John Hester to Triple-A Reno.
"It was tough," Montero said of standing by, often on crutches, while his club slid in the standings. "It feels terrible when you know you can't help. Now that I'm here, I'm just going to do my best, try to help some way, somehow.
"I know one guy doesn't make the club, but I'm going to try to help some way."
Montero had six hits in his first 12 big league at-bats this season. He was being counted on as an everyday backstop and middle-of-the-order hiter, one season after collecting career highs in batting average (.294), home runs (16) and RBIs (59).
It has been a long road back: surgery on his right knee, a four-to-six-week timetable for his return, a pit stop in extended spring training and a four-game rehab assignment at Reno.
"Eight weeks later," Montero said, "I'm here."
Manager A.J. Hinch said Montero, who will wear a knee brace indefinitely, would be a "weapon off the bench" for Saturday's game against the Cardinals. Montero pinch-hit for Dan Haren in the eighth inning, lining out to center.AR
Hinch added that he will ease Montero back into the swing of things by placing him in the designated-hitter slot next week in Boston and Detroit and giving Chris Snyder occasional starts behind the dish.
Montero's return resulted in Hester's expected demotion. The 26-year-old catcher said he learned a lot about calling a game and working with Major League pitchers, but admitted he took a figurative step back in the batter's box. In 48 at-bats over 20 games, Hester batted just .188. He struck out five times in his final two games.
"He became a little tentative at the plate, and that's due to a lack of playing time," Hinch said. "He's going to get back to playing every day, which is important for a guy who is trying to forge his way onto a Major League roster."
Added Hester, "Overall, it was a good experience. I look forward to coming back hopefully at some point in time. Until then, I'll go down there and see what I can do."
D-backs' struggling Upton bats seventh
PHOENIX -- After Friday's 5-2 loss, D-backs manager described third-place hitter Justin Upton as carrying the weight of world on his broad shoulders. Upton had just gone 1-for-4 at the plate and struck out twice more, extending his Major League-lead in K's.
So on Saturday, prior to Arizona's second game of the three-game series against the Cardinals, Hinch decided to drop Upton four spots in the order, to seventh. Upton, who has batted second, third and fourth this season, was last slotted seventh on April 29, 2009.
"This is an honest effort to try to relax him a little bit and take the burden and some pressure off of him, that he doesn't have to carry our team," Hinch explained. "It's important for him to gather himself."
Eight games through his club's 10-game homestand, Upton's .227 batting average (with 13 strikeouts in 27 at-bats) overshadowed his two home runs and three RBIs. Hinch added that he felt compelled to break up the 3-4-5 trio of Upton (85 strikeouts), Mark Reynolds (82) and Adam LaRoche (61), who lead the team in whiffs.
"I told Justin before the game [Saturday] there's no disgrace in hitting anywhere in a Major League lineup. Chris Young has hit sixth or seventh all year, and I don't think he is too disappointed in his production," said Hinch, who is contemplating giving Upton the day off on Sunday. "I told him, if he wants to be [mad] at me, that's all the better if that helps him turn things around and that gets him back performing at the level we're accustomed to."
Facing lefties helps LaRoche dump slump
PHOENIX -- What is Adam LaRoche's ultimate slump-buster?
As illogical as it may sound, it's the D-backs' left-handed-hitting slugger facing a left-handed pitcher.
"I have always liked facing lefties when I'm struggling because they can get me back," he said. "I've been in a rut the last couple of weeks, and I've been working on a couple of things with my stance, trying to figure it out."
So facing the St. Louis Cardinals' Jaime Garcia was the perfect remedy. Against Garcia in the fifth inning Friday night, LaRoche doubled home Conor Jackson. It was his first hit in 14 at-bats.
LaRoche also drove in Arizona's second and final run in the 5-2 loss, a seventh-inning RBI single off Cards reliever Dennys Reyes, who just happens to be a lefty.
LaRoche said hitting against lefties (and trying to spot up their breaking pitches) forces him to stay back and remain patient. Lately, he said he was too jumpy against right-handers.
For his career, LaRoche bats .257 against lefties (.276 against righties) but, through 62 games in 2010 entering Saturday, he was batting .327 against left-handers (and .225 against righties).
Unfortunately for his D-backs, LaRoche was slated to face right-handed starting pitchers (the Cards' Chris Carpenter and the Boston Red Sox's Clay Buchholz) over the next two games after facing yet another, St. Louis' Adam Ottavino, on Saturday.
Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.