Upton sits, watches as D-backs top Padres
Struggling outfielder says it was merely a routine day off
SAN DIEGO -- If Kirk Gibson was trying to send a message to Justin Upton by sitting him on Saturday at Petco Park, the D-backs manager wasn't saying."You guys are trying to stir it up today," Gibson said before the D-backs' 4-2 win over the Padres, kind of chuckling at the Upton line of questions from a group of reporters who regularly cover the team.
"Write whatever you want."There's no question that the D-backs have been struggling of late, and that Gibson is looking for the right combination. There's also no question that Upton had problems on a couple of plays in right field during Friday night's 7-1 loss here. On one, Upton misplayed a line drive into a run-scoring error, and on another he seemed to pull up at the last second after a long run for a foul ball that fell uncaught. Upton also was 3-for-20 at the plate over the last five games. Gibson was asked flat out if he was happy with Upton's effort. "Yeah," he said. "I can tell you that the game's almost as easy from where I stand [in the dugout] compared to where you are [in the press box]. Trust me. Especially, you can see it [up there] on TV, too." About the play down the foul line in particular, Gibson added: "Is there somebody in the big leagues that could've caught it? Maybe. Coulda, woulda, shoulda? We can play a lot of those games. What are you saying? It sounds like you're criticizing him." Gibson sat Upton despite the fact that the 24-year-old right-handed hitter is 3-for-6 lifetime against Edinson Volquez, San Diego's starter on Saturday. Upton was replaced in right field by Gerardo Parra, who showed again that he has the best arm of any outfielder on the team, and was the key to why the D-backs won the game. "Parra was phenomenal," Gibson said about a player who ultimately generated the go-ahead and insurance runs. To open the bottom of the third, Parra perfectly played a drive hit by Everth Cabrera that caromed off the top of the 10-foot high fence above the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center, making a laser-like throw to second baseman Aaron Hill. Cabrera was dead at third base. As the Padres were mounting a two-run rally in the fourth, Parra easily threw out Yonder Alonso trying to tag up from second. Again, the runner was a goner at third base. Apparently, Alonso hadn't heard that Parra was one of three National League outfielders to win a Gold Glove Award last year. Finally, Parra generated the winning run when he opened the seventh by beating out a single off the glove of Padres reliever Joe Thatcher. Parra quickly scooted to third on a Willie Bloomquist single, scoring when Thatcher balked him home. "Parra caused the balk," Gibson said. "He took that extra step and came down hard. Thatcher flinched." And to think, Gibson has been having trouble finding a regular spot for Parra since Chris Young returned from the disabled list last month after nursing a bruised right shoulder. Young is hitting .143 in the 12 games since coming off the DL. But on Saturday, that spot belonged to Upton. The lineup had been posted when Upton went into Gibson's office and closed the door. Upton was simply told he wasn't playing. When the door opened, Upton seemed to be unfazed, laughing and joking in the clubhouse with Parra. "It's a day off," Upton said when asked. Nothing more to it than that? "Nope, nothing more to it," he said. "I just had to make sure. Obviously, I want to be in the lineup every day, but if he thinks I need a day off, that's fine." Did Gibson give him a reason? "Not really. I've played quite a few in a row. But I feel fine. I can play every day. I'm good, good to go." With the D-backs (24-29) nine games behind the first-place Dodgers in the NL West standings, Gibson decided to shake up a lineup that still went 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position on Saturday, and is hitting .245 for the season in those situations.
Jason Kubel has returned from paternity leave and was back in left field, hitting in Upton's usual No. 3 slot. Paul Goldschmidt was moved into the cleanup spot and Miguel Montero slid down to fifth.Goldschmidt also responded by hitting his fifth homer, a prodigious blast off Volquez into the second deck just rows beneath the main left-field video board. And when Gibson had a chance to pinch-hit Upton against a left-handed pitcher with the bases loaded and two out in the eighth, he opted to send up the lefty swinging Parra, who walked, forcing in the fourth run. Gibson had said pointedly that Upton would be available to play at some point in the game. He never got a sniff. Last year, Upton had a breakout season, hitting .289 with 31 homers and 88 RBIs, as the D-backs won 94 games and the division title. For the first two months of this season, Upton is hitting .249 with five homers and 20 RBIs. Gibson is tired of talking about last year. "I don' think it's productive," the skipper said. "This is this year. We need to redefine who we're going to be." Upton certainly will be back in there. But it should be interesting to see what Sunday's lineup brings and whether he is an immediate part of that redefinition.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.