As the Diamondbacks prepared for a game against Oakland on Sunday, special assistant Matt Williams mentioned again how infield defense was a priority this offseason.
As if on cue, Craig Counsell and Royce Clayton saved a hit apiece in a 3-0 loss to the Athletics.
Counsell backhanded a ball behind second base and threw out Bobby Crosby to open the third inning, and Clayton went into the hole with runners on first and second and two outs in the fourth to get a force out at second.
"If that’s a sign of things to come, it’s going to be a great year,’’ starting Diamondbacks pitcher Shawn Estes said.
The new middle infield combination of Counsell and Clayton started together for the sixth time this spring and turned double plays during pregame work, but manager Bob Melvin said he would feel comfortable regardless of how many reps they had because of their inherent feel for defense.
"They could probably not even play together this spring and do fine once the season started,’’ Melvin said.
Clayton said he knew the two were on the same wavelength after they turned a double play the last time the DBacks met Oakland. Clayton fielded a sharp grounder on a hit-and-run play, but Counsell had positioned himself well enough that he still beat the runner to second base.
"It’s little things like that, where we are thinking along with each other. It lets us both know we are on the same page,’’ Clayton said.
"There are no more surehanded guys than those two. They are very aware of our pitcher. They are very aware of the opponent. And they know how to move from pitch to pitch,’’ Melvin said.
A FOOT LOWER
Estes threw strikes and kept the ball down, his formula for success, while going five strong innings against Oakland in his best outing of the spring.
Estes threw first-pitch strikes to the first six batters he faced and needed only 17 pitches to get through the first two innings. He got 12 groundball outs and two strikeouts while throwing only 56 pitches.
The A’s did not get a base runner until Eric Chavez singled with two outs in the fourth, and they scored their only run in the fifth, when Bobby Crosby doubled before Quinton McCracken lost a two-out fly ball in the sun for an error, the ball hitting him in the ribs.
"It’s a good sign for me when the infield is doing the work. I want to get 27 groundball outs. That would be a perfect game for me,’’ Estes said.
"They weren’t even hitting the ball hard off him. It was midseason form for him,’’ Melvin said.
McCracken got to the spot of Shawn Garrett’s fly in the fifth but lost it at the last second. The ball hit him in the ribs and bounced in front of him, permitting Bobby Crosby to score the first run of the game.
"It was one of those situations where I had to wear one. I was lucky it was in a place I could handle it,’’ McCracken said.
Lance Cormier threw a perfect inning and continued to impress. "He looks good every time he goes out there, has command of both sides of the plate, hides the ball well. We always knew he was going to be a guy who throws it over the plate,’’ Melvin said. . . .
The D-Backs will have their only off day of the spring Tuesday and Melvin plans to make a family day of it, taking daughter Lexie to school and picking her up. Javier Vazquez and catcher Juan Brito will put in a typical work day, however. Vazquez will be stretched out to 80 pitches in a morning game against D-Backs minor league players to remain on track for his opening-day start. . . .
Tony Pena did not throw Sunday after feeling tightness in his right flexor tendon following a two-inning appearance Friday and is to be reevaluated today, Melvin said. . . .
The D-Backs are expected to make their first cuts of the spring today.
Diamondbacks vs. Rockies What: The D-Backs return to Tucson Electric Park to play Colorado at 1:05 p.m. after splitting two games of split-squad action in the Valley on Sunday. TV/radio: None Pitchers: Arizona — Oscar Villarreal, Jose Jimenez, Jon Cannon, Juan Acevedo, Jose Valverde; Colorado — Joe Kennedy, Brian Fuentes, Chin-hui Tsao Records: Arizona 7-6, Colorado 8-4 Tickets: (866) 672-1343
AT A GLANCE
Athletics 3, D-Backs 0 Notable pitching: Shawn Estes retired the first 11 batters he faced — nine groundouts, one strikeout, one fly ball — and gave up only an unearned run in five innings. . . . Lance Cormier had a 1-2-3 seventh, getting a strikeout and two ground balls. Notable hitting: Quinton McCracken had two singles to center, one on a hit-and-run play. . . . Craig Counsell had his first stolen base of the spring in the first inning. . . . The D-Backs have been shut out in their two games against Oakland here this spring.
D-Backs 15, Brewers 11 Notable pitching: Brad Halsey gave up his first four earned runs of the spring, three in the first. . . . Brandon Medders had a 1-2-3 inning in his spring debut, striking out one. . . . Non-roster lefty Kevin Tolar has not given up a run in his three outings, over 3 2 /3 innings. Notable hitting: Corey Myers hit a grand slam in the ninth inning to give the D-Backs the lead, as they scored 13 runs in the final three innings. . . . Kelly Stinnett had two triples — he has four triples in 1,731 regular season major league atbats. . . . Tony Clark has three doubles and five RBIs in his last seven at-bats.