4/26/2013 10:39 P.M. ET
D-backs host Cards' top pick, country duo
By Tyler Emerick / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- The D-backs hosted a few special guests before the club's game against the Rockies on Friday, as country music duo Florida Georgia Line and Arizona Cardinals 2013 first-round draft pick Jonathan Cooper stopped by Chase Field to mingle with the players.
Cooper, an offensive guard from North Carolina whom the Cardinals selected seventh overall on Thursday, threw out the ceremonial first pitch wearing a custom D-backs jersey made in his name.
"I just wanted to get it there," Cooper said of the pitch, which Patrick Corbin caught on the outside corner.
Coincidentally enough, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson, a two-sport athlete at Michigan State, was also drafted by the Cardinals way back in the seventh round of the 1979 draft.
Earlier on Friday, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley from Florida Georgia Line took batting practice and shagged balls in the outfield with the D-backs before taking off for their concert in Mesa.
Big-time country music fans Wade Miley, Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Hill each had the band autograph a guitar for them while hanging out in the clubhouse before BP. Cliff Pennington, another fan of the duo, chose his walk-up song at the start of the season to be the band's No. 1 hit "Cruise."
D-backs displaying exemplary glovework
PHOENIX -- While the D-backs' pitching and hitting have fought through some rough patches at one point or another in 2013, the club's fielding has been exceedingly steady throughout the early portion of the season. Through Arizona's first 22 games, the team has committed just six errors for a .993 fielding percentage, which is tops in the Majors.
"It's had a very positive effect on us," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "We try to convince our pitchers to throw to contact, and they understand why. Everybody doesn't make those good plays, but we have."
Among the D-backs who have yet to commit an error entering Friday are Miguel Montero, A.J. Pollock, Gerardo Parra and Paul Goldschmidt.
"The guys take a lot of pride in it," Goldschmidt said. "Everyone on the team preaches it. Defense is a huge part of winning. It's a long season, so hopefully we'll keep doing it."
The D-backs recorded their sixth error of the season on Thursday, when Martin Prado failed to handle a softly hit grounder down the third-base line and a run scored because of it. Gibson thought the play should've been ruled a hit, however, given how far the third baseman had to charge in to field it.
"I didn't think that was an error at all, that's a tough call," Gibson said. "He's playing back, it was basically a swinging bunt, he's got to extend himself and hope the ball comes up, but it didn't. It's just not the right call."
Still, with regulars like Aaron Hill, Willie Bloomquist and Jason Kubel on the disabled list, the club's consistent fielding speaks to the job the coaching staff has done with the players.
"We've got a great program, all my coaches have done a good job," Gibson said. "I think it's cumulative. This is our third full year as a staff, and this year we've kind of modified our work to have them prepare by picturing what we're trying to do. Because mistakes happen when people rush and they try to do something they shouldn't."
Nieves benefits from higher spot in batting order
PHOENIX -- With starting catcher Miguel Montero behind the plate on most days, Wil Nieves hasn't seen much field time early this season. But that's doesn't mean the D-backs lack confidence in the 35-year-old veteran.
In the backup catcher's three starts in 2013, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson has penciled in Nieves in the sixth or seventh spot instead of the eight hole in front of the pitcher, which is a tough place to bat. That trust in Nieves to hit higher in the order has panned out over the first few weeks of the season, with the catcher collecting three RBIs and hitting 6-for-12, including a 3-for-3 night at the plate on Thursday.
"I'm pretty sure it has helped," Nieves said. "I thank God Gibby has put me sixth or seventh, because when you have some protection behind you, it's so much easier."
The confidence the club has in Nieves is something new to the journeyman, who knows what it's like to hit with the pitcher behind him for seasons at a time. Over his nine-year career, Nieves has hit eighth in 180 of his 233 starts.
"That's a tough spot," he said. "I remember when I was with the Nationals, Ivan Rodriguez hit eighth for the first time in his career and he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. After the game, he came up to me and asked me how I do it. I just told him, 'Yeah, it's tough.'"
Even though it was a challenge while he was relegated to the eighth spot, Nieves believes the experience batting there for so long has helped him evolve into a better hitter over the years.
"You have to be patient there, you have to know how the game is going, what the situation is and everything," he said. "It's different every time, because in a lot of scenarios they might pitch around you. It's helped me a lot. You can't try to do too much, just keep it simple. I've tried to continue doing that, and so far it has paid off."
Besides the benefit of hitting higher in the lineup, the catcher believes part of his early success is also due to some new batting-practice habits he has tried to instill in himself.
"A lot of times in BP, guys try to hit home runs and see how far they can hit it," Nieves said. "But they end up flying open with their swings and it creates bad habits. So I'm trying to do the same in BP as I would in a game. I don't even look where the ball is going. Manny Ramirez used to do that, and that's what I've been doing."
• Entering Friday night's game, the D-backs were 5-for-12 in stolen-base attempts this season, a 42 percent success rate, which is the lowest in baseball. In 2012, the D-backs finished ninth in the Majors in the category, stealing bases on 65 percent of their attempts.
• Among all National League players at the beginning of play Friday, Goldschmidt was fifth in hits (27), seventh in OPS (.997), fourth in RBIs (18) and sixth in runs scored (17).
• 16 of Arizona's first 22 games in 2013 have been decided by two runs or less. The D-backs are 8-8 in those contests.
• The D-backs released Triple-A Reno pitcher Nelson Figueroa on Friday. He went 0-3 with a 12.76 ERA in his four starts for the Aces this season.
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.