The transition is expected to smooth.
Just ask Diamondbacks’ shortstop Cliff Pennington, who came over from the Oakland A’s last fall in a three team deal, and now winds up in the desert.
With a worn path between Oakland and Phoenix, as a result of several deals between D-backs’ GM Kevin Towers and his counter-part Billy Beane of the A’s, Pennington is the latest in a series of deals between the two clubs. Overall, Pennington said he’s very familiar with the style and demands of manager Kirk Gibson and expectations throughout the organization.
After parts of five seasons in Oakland, Pennington arrives in the National League amid a transition season at shortstop in Arizona. The severe injury to Stephen Drew two years ago put “the revolving door” factor into play. Role and utility player 35 year-old Willie Bloomquist filled the position with valor and production, but now enters the final year of a previously-signed two year deal.
To that effect, the Diamondbacks went out and traded for both Pennington and Didi Gregorius (Cincinnati) and believe 21 year-old Chris Owings (.263 at AA Mobile) could be the shortstop of the future.
For now, Pennington is expected to receive the majority of playing time at shortstop, and points out reception from his new teammates is inspiring.
“I spoke with (former D-backs and current Oakland manager Bob Melvin) many times and he said you’ll love there,” Pennington said Thursday morning in the clubhouse at Salt River. “He said coming over here would be smooth and it’s a great environment.”
In the first weeks of spring training, there is nothing to dispute that observation, Pennington acknowledged. Walking into the clubhouse, the 28 year-old native of Corpus Christi, Texas said he found Arizona hungry to regain its’ status as National League West Division leader, accomplished 2011, and ready for the challenge ahead.
Yet, he admits, there are several areas of adjustments.
First, there’s an education level to learn hitters and pitchers and in the National League and to fully embrace this learning process.
“(In the American League), I knew where to position myself, knew the kinds of pitches our pitchers would throw to certain hitters and to position my teammates according,” he said. “Now, I have to learn about new hitters and get used to our pitching staff.”
Plus, Pennington said, he needs to develop a working relationship with second baseman Aaron Hill.
“I need to know where he likes the ball and communicate that where I would like to ball,” said Pennington, in reference to handling a double play ball. “But Aaron is such a professional and that should not be an issue.”
Pennington enters the 2013 season as a career .249 hitter but led the A’s in hitting with a .264 average on 2012. That compares with a .269 career average for Bloomquist, and Pennington is slated to hit low in the lineup.
With John McDonald and Bloomquist, both penciled in at the shortstop position and in their final contract year, Pennington just inked a two-year deal which will pay him $5 million over through 2014.
On the advent of the season, Pennington is the first to admit that playing time with Bloomquist, whose value remains his ability to play the outfield and infield, remains to be decided. Acknowledging that’s a decision out of his hands, Pennington admitted, “it’s too early in the spring to determine anything like that.”
What is certain is his ability to fit in the Diamondbacks culture.
“(Pennington) has a strong baseball mind,” said Gibson. “In the first pre-season game (Feb. 23), he sat next to me, asked about certain situations, offered his thoughts and I was impressed.”
At Oakland, Pennington took upon himself to be a leader-on-the-field, help position players and generally handled himself as a coach on the field. With the Diamondbacks, he sees that role changing.
“There are so many leaders in this clubhouse,” he said. “Right now, we’re all working together on how to make the team better.”
ON THE FIELD …
Opening Day starter Ian Kennedy pronounced his first outing of the spring Thursday afternoon a success.
In going two innings against the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear, Kennedy allowed one unearned run in two innings of work.
“I felt really good and at this point and wanted to work on fast ball command,” he said. “Threw a few curves and change-ups, but that was secondary. The big thing was getting fast ball command.”
For the game, the Diamondbacks beat the Reds, 6-5. Right-hander Charles Brewer, a Scottsdale native, and trying to win a spot on the 25 man roster, pitched three scoreless innings. He continued to impress with his second win in the Cactus League.