Notes: D-backs' relievers state cases

Notes: D-backs' relievers state cases

TUCSON, Ariz. -- It's a hard sell to call Sunday's 7-5 loss to the A's a pitchers' duel. But given the sterling performance out of the bullpen from four hurlers dueling for jobs on the pitching staff, the only way the final five innings could have been more dramatic is if the candidates had measured off 10 paces before turning and facing each other.

"All these guys coming in today are guys that we feel like have a chance," Bob Melvin said before the game. And one by one, Jorge Julio, Casey Daigle, Brandon Medders, and Tony Pena came in and made an honest man out of their manager, shutting down the A's on five hits in five innings.

As hard as it may be to say one guy's goose egg looked any better than another's, Medders' figures jump out of a box score. He gave up two hits and struck out the side in his inning of work, but the 0.00 ERA after four Cactus League appearances spanning 4 2/3 innings looms large in locking up his hold on the eighth-inning job setting up closer Jose Valverde.

Melvin promised Brandon Lyon would be in that late-inning mix as well, recognizing that Medders and Lyon could be flipped-flopped from day to day, depending on the matchups.

"He is a deep inning guy," Melvin said of Lyon. "I'm not saying he's our eighth-inning guy, but you'll see him in the eighth inning a lot."

Doug Slaten is another reliever with a good grip on his spot. The most promising prospect for left-handed specialist in the 'pen, Slaten compiled a 1.43 ERA in 58 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Tucson in 2006 before making nine appearances without yielding a run in his late-season callup to the parent club.

Slaten has given up four earned runs in five innings of Cactus League play this spring, but he pitched in a Minor League game Sunday afternoon and notched a one-two-three inning on 16 pitches.

"We don't have too many left-handers," Melvin admitted. "No jobs are given. You always have to earn it. But is he our left-handed situational guy based on last year? Absolutely. You still have to pitch well."

Other top bullpen candidates who did not pitch Sunday include Enrique Gonzalez, Dana Eveland and Edgar Gonzalez, each also contending for a rotation spot, and Juan Cruz, who Melvin has penciled into a spot after benefiting from 94 2/3 versatile innings from Cruz last season.

"He's the band-aid," said Melvin. "If somebody's down for a day, he can pitch the seventh inning. He can pitch multiple innings early in the game. When his command's good and he's pitching with a lot of confidence, you can pitch him anywhere.

Feeling groovy: Livan Hernandez did not look good on the mound Sunday, but he felt marvelous. Expected to throw five innings, he got to his pitch count early, leaving after four innings and seven runs on 11 hits.

"I feel very good," Hernandez said. "I threw a lot of strikes. That's important. The only hangup pitch was the home run [to Nick Swisher]. I tried to throw a slider inside. It did nothing, and he hit the ball good.

"I know it's a lot of runs, but the most important thing is how you feel," Hernandez added. "I can pitch better than that. I feel great. I'll put everything together and be ready for the season."

If Melvin had any concerns about his projected No. 3 starter, he didn't share them, choosing instead to emphasize the positive.

"He's a good hitter," Melvin joked, referring to the single Hernandez crushed off the center-field wall. "He's always working on something. He got a lot of balls in the middle of the plate. He got a bunch of guys up there he doesn't know. And they got a bunch of hits off him. But he got [his pitch count] into the 70s. That's where we wanted to get him with his pitches. Spring's probably not his best time. We'll get him in April."

Big BP: Randy Johnson takes his second turn on the mound facing live hitters Monday. Both outings have been out of town and both have been on the back fields, throwing live batting practice at 10:30 a.m. MT, first in Maryvale and next in Peoria, about as far from the crowds as you can get.

"The first time out there after back surgery I wanted him to go off a mound without everybody watching him," Melvin said Sunday. "I didn't want him leaning on it too hard. Sometimes you can't help but try and do that. We haven't been secretive."

The D-backs are looking to see Johnson throw about 50 pitches Monday, though if he feels good, Johnson may extend himself a bit further.

With a pair of batting-practice sessions under his belt, Melvin is hopeful that Johnson will be ready to take the next step.

"It'll be a game situation, whether it's a B game over there with the White Sox or a Cactus League game, providing everything goes all right and we're happy with how it goes," Melvin said. "We'll monitor how we think he feels and go from there."

Big tent: Also in the medical tent, Brandon Webb (stiff neck) played catch successfully on Sunday, setting him up for a side session Monday or Tuesday and keeping him on pace to start Thursday's game against the Giants.

Carlos Quentin (shoulder irritation) continued to rest and receive treatment. If he doesn't make progress within the next couple of days, he'll likely get an MRI for further evaluation.

Getting down: Right-handed pitchers Jeff Bajenaru and Chad Harville and outfielder Rich Thompson were reassigned to the Minor League camp Sunday, and right-handed pitcher Mike Schultz was optioned to Triple-A Tucson.

On deck: The Diamondbacks travel to Peoria, Ariz. Monday to face the Mariners in a 1:05 p.m. MT game. Southpaw Doug Davis will take the hill for the D-backs, facing fellow lefty Jarrod Washburn of the Mariners.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.