D-backs not settled into lineup roles
This season could be much like last year: many combos
PEORIA, Ariz. -- There was no shortage of oddities for Arizona's offense en route to winning the division in 2007.
They did it while being outscored by 20 runs, becoming the fifth team in Major League Baseball history to win a postseason berth despite coming up on the short side of the scoring.
And they did it with 146 different lineups penned -- or more likely penciled -- by manager Bob Melvin.
Melvin expects to see both trends reverse in the coming season, depending on a quickly maturing team to offer consistency at the plate and more dependability in their emerging roles in the core lineup.
Still, if you're scoring at home, you'd be well-advised to use pencil when projecting the day's starting eight position players.
"There were a lot of reasons we had a bunch of different lineups," Melvin said before Wednesday's game under the lights with the Mariners. "I don't envision having 146 [this season]. I would think we're probably a little further along where you can kind of forecast our semi-everyday lineup. But there are still going to be some changes and still a significant number of lineups."
Last year, necessity may have been the mother of Melvin's lineup inventiveness, but the '08 D-backs figure to have a deep bench, and Melvin is committed to finding opportunities for those players to keep involved.
Furthermore, there are few players of the everyday eight to have seized control of a particular spot in the batting order. Only Chris Young and Orlando Hudson played more than half the games from a single slot in the lineup, with Young taking the leadoff role in 84 games and Hudson hitting third in 85. Eric Byrnes had at least 10 games starting in each of the top four spots, and Conor Jackson played at least 12 games hitting from the two, four, five and six holes.
"There's definitely a value in matching up and getting everybody involved and getting the role players a chance to succeed and get them in there against guys that they've had some success against," Melvin said. "There is a momentum and a feeling of chemistry that kind of takes over at times, where whoever's in the lineup, you feel like that guy's going to step up for you.
"You saw that down the stretch for us last year, whether it was injuries or just based on a day off for somebody, everybody felt like they were going to go in there and contribute on their day. You can create some momentum that way. Kind of a feel-good wave, where it's not just eight guys you're relying on every day, it's the whole 25-man group."
Wednesday's game with the Mariners offered a glimpse at the eight position players likely to log the most games in the lineup, but Melvin admitted to continuing to use the spring to try guys out in different roles.
"We're still tinkering with the lineups," Melvin conceded. "I've got Jackson in the two-hole today, and he hasn't hit there yet this spring. We'll still tinker a little bit."
Though he's characteristically reluctant to commit to any given player anchoring a role in the lineup, Melvin has Chris Young penciled in as the leadoff man.
"We'll see based on how C.Y. does and what his production level is whether I can keep him in the first spot," Melvin said.
The other most likely candidate to lead off would be Byrnes, who started 46 games in the top slot last year, but more than any player, his role is likely to change from game to game, based on who else is in the lineup on a given day.
"Byrnesy kind of settled into the third spot last year, but I think he does better when he's in a different spot a lot," Melvin said. "When he's challenged and given something on a particular day that I need out of him, I think he responds really well to that."
There may be a level of exaggeration at work here. Byrnes meets the challenges given to him by Melvin's juggling, but he doesn't necessarily crave a daily dose of change.
"I don't mind hitting anywhere in the lineup," Byrnes said. "Anywhere but 10th is fine for me. I'm not going to change my approach as a hitter whether I'm hitting leadoff or cleanup. It's kind of rare that somebody does that. I'm not sure how many guys in baseball go from leadoff one day to cleanup the next. But whatever's best for the team."
Ironically, another likely leadoff/cleanup candidate is Young, who with 32 homers and 27 steals was linked with Byrnes' 21 homers and 50 steals as the team leaders in both categories.
Melvin sees the middle of the order replete with interchangeable parts, with Jackson, Byrnes, Chris Snyder, Greg Reynolds and Young all identified as possible cleanup hitters.
Though Hudson made most of his starts in the three-slot, he hit out of the two-hole more than any other player, and Melvin sees him filling that role well.
"Jackson can hit anywhere from two down the order," Melvin added. "[Stephen] Drew's the same way."
Ultimately, if it takes another season of mixing and matching in search of the elusive ideal lineup card, the D-backs are ready for their roles -- and ready to roll the scoreboard with a lot of crooked numbers.
"This is a lineup with young hitters that haven't really established themselves yet as far as molding into a prototypical three-hitter or four-hitter or a leadoff hitter," Byrnes explained. "I've always bounced around anyway, so I'm used to it. Bob knows I don't mind it. If it's best for me to be in a run-producing spot, great. If it's best for me to be at the top where I can get something done, I'm fine with that too."
Or, as Melvin puts it, "It really is kind of a crapshoot in terms of where the guys are going to hit."
Pencils ready -- roll the dice.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.