Nixon made his first spring start at first base on Thursday, hoping to show that after a long and celebrated career without ever fielding a big league grounder in the infield that he can still learn a new trick in time to add value to the D-backs' bench.
"One of the basis for the tryout was that he would play some first base," manager Bob Melvin said before Thursday's game. "It wasn't just something we were doing to add a little something to his bag of tricks. It's actually a functional position we need him to do, and so far he's been pretty good."
Nixon entered Wednesday's game with the Mariners in the seventh inning, playing first through the end of the game, and he had logged some time at first in Minor League games before taking the plunge in Thursday's start. He had no trouble in six innings in the field against the Rangers, backhanding one grounder toward the line and making the play himself at first and reaching another grounder that pulled him toward second, although starting pitcher Billy Buckner couldn't get to the bag quick enough to take Nixon's toss and record an out.
"I don't know that Buckner got over there in time," Melvin agreed. "He had to pump fake it one time, but he went and got the ball on a couple other plays. Once you get the first couple plays it loosens you up a little bit over there. We'll run him out there again."
In a regular lineup with only Stephen Drew and switch-hitting Orlando Hudson hitting from the left side, Nixon offers a prized left-handed bat to make key starts and critical pinch-hits. And with Chad Tracy's indefinite timeline for returning to full baseball activities and joining the 25-man roster, Nixon and Chris Burke offer the best shot at an alternative for starter Conor Jackson.
"Burke can play over there, and it's just like having another shortstop on the field," Melvin said. "He probably doesn't have the wing span of a Tony Clark, but as far as range goes, we've already seen him go too far for some balls. He's got to find out what his range is, where the second baseman is, kind of how the position plays a little bit. He's a sure-handed guy over there. Another middle infielder that can play on a corner position. We'll give him his reps over there too."
Burke has the same big league experience as Nixon at first, which is to say none, but his infield instincts may make some aspects of the transition slightly easier for him to pick up.
"Coming in from the outfield it's a little more difficult," Melvin said of Nixon. "But being left-handed and putting that first baseman's glove on your right hand always makes you look like one. His actions would suggest that he's well on his way."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.