After taking questions from a reporter about Arizona rookie
righthander Brandon Webb last Friday, Diamondbacks catcher Chad
Moeller turned to first baseman Lyle Overbay and said, "They used
to ask about Randy [Johnson] and Curt [Schilling]. Now they ask
With several key veterans, including Johnson (injured right knee)
and Schilling (broken right hand), having spent more time on the
disabled list than on the active roster this season, an
unexpected youth movement--call them the Babybacks (chart,
right)--has brought Arizona back from a tumultuous start. As
recently as June 14 the Diamondbacks were trailing the Giants by
10 games in the NL West, but thanks to a 17-4 run, including a
12-game winning streak that ended last week, Arizona (48-39) was
just five games back at week's end. The Diamondbacks had sent
more players to the DL (15) than any other team in the majors and
had been forced to use a league-high 12 rookies.
The biggest boost has come from the 24-year-old Webb, who in his
first major league start on April 27 struck out 10 in seven
shutout innings of a 6-1 win over the Mets. Through Sunday he was
5-2, led all major league pitchers with 10 or more starts in ERA
(2.04) and was riding a streak of 12 straight quality starts
(pitching six or more innings while giving up three runs or
fewer), the longest such stretch in the majors this season. It
was also the longest run of quality starts to begin a career
since the Expos' Steve Rogers had 16 in 1973.
Webb is the rare pitcher who baffles hitters without changing
speeds. More than 80% of his pitches are two-seam sinking
fastballs that have so much movement that he hasn't had to throw
many off-speed pitches. Webb doesn't throw particularly hard--he
tops out in the low 90s--but his stuff is nasty. "Big league
hitters aren't dumb," says first baseman Mark Grace. "They know
what's coming. They still can't touch him."
"Brandon's the whole package: great stuff, great poise, great
personality," says Schilling, who has taken Webb under his wing.
"He's only reached the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential."
Born and raised in Ashland, Ky., Webb is laid-back--while most
pitchers isolate themselves in the hours before starts, Webb
mixes with teammates to stay relaxed. "He's a country boy who
doesn't know any better," says Moeller. "He doesn't know that
he's as special a pitcher as he is." When he takes the mound,
however, Webb is all business. Says Schilling, "Underneath that
easygoing exterior, he's got a fierce, competitive edge."
In Webb the Diamondbacks have what they've been looking for since
Johnson and Schilling were united in 2000: a dominant third
starter to complement the best one-two punch in the majors. And
with Johnson, Schilling and All-Star second baseman Junior Spivey
(left ankle sprain) all scheduled to be back playing by mid-July,
Arizona could become the most dangerous team in the NL West.
As the regulars return, most of their replacements will assume
backup roles, but not Webb. "I didn't even know who Brandon was
before the season," says Grace. "But here he is, one of the main
reasons why we've been able to stay in this thing."
COLOR PHOTO: WILL POWERS/AFP PHOTO (WEBB) Webb, who was 5-2 with a 2.04 ERA through Sunday, has filled Johnson's role as the Arizona ace.
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO (VALVERDE)
COLOR PHOTO: DUANE BURLESON/AP (KATA)
COLOR PHOTO: AP (CINTRON)
COLOR PHOTO: ED WOLFSTEIN/ICON SMI (GOOD)
Brandon Webb isn't the only up-and-comer to make a significant
impact in Arizona this season. Here are four others who have
filled in admirably for injured regulars (stats through Sunday).
OUT: Matt Mantei, closer, tendinitis in right shoulder (DL on
IN: Jose Valverde, 23, righthander. Nine for nine in save chances
OUT: Junior Spivey, second baseman, left ankle sprain (DL on
IN: Matt Kata, 25. Hit .360 with four homers in first 19 major
OUT: Craig Counsell, infielder, dislocated right thumb (DL on
IN: Alex Cintron, 24. Hit .326 with five homers and 16 RBIs in
OUT: Curt Schilling, starter, broken fractured hand (DL on June 3)
IN: Andrew Good, 23, righthander. Had 4-2 record, 4.48 ERA