Webb extremely efficient in Minors game

Webb extremely efficient in Minors game

TUCSON, Ariz. -- While the Major League staff focused its attention on some players on the bubble in Thursday's game with the Rangers, Brandon Webb had an afternoon free from the pressure, pitching a Minor League game against the White Sox on a back field at Tucson Electric Park.

It was an effective and efficient outing for the D-backs' ace, with Webb going six innings and allowing two runs on four hits and two walks. He struck out five and gave up a home run to Brad Eldred.

"I got ahead of him the first at-bat, and then the next pitch I just left it kind of out over and he ... tattooed me," Webb said of the one blemish on his day. "He hit to left field, left-center a little bit. Line drive, so he got me pretty good. That was the best hack they had. Other than that, it was a lot of PFPs [pitcher's fielding practice] over there. ... Covering first like non-stop. Which is a good thing. I'll take it."

Webb's habit of getting ahead early in counts paid off against the mostly Minor League players, who have a tendency to bring a free-swinging approach to the plate. He was almost too efficient, throwing 36 pitches in the first four innings and finishing the sixth with 70 pitches. In order to get a full workout and build up his endurance, Webb threw 15 more pitches in the bullpen after leaving the game, putting him in good shape for his Opening Day start after one more tuneup.

"I got a lot of ground balls," Webb said. "I was keeping the ball down for the most part and getting ahead of basically every hitter. That was good. I just basically threw a lot of fastballs. If I'd gone deeper in the count, I probably would have had more time to get some more changeups or curveballs in. I got probably five or six curveballs and about the same changeups."

The White Sox designated hitter Jim Thome was in the game for all six of Webb's innings, batting third in every inning but showing no more patience than the Minor Leaguers.

"It seems like whenever you go over there there's a lot of early hackers, and that was pretty much the case," Webb said. "Even Thome, the first three at-bats he rolled over to first base on three pitches. He ended up getting a broken bat hit, but overall it was pretty good."

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A big reason Webb was pitching in the Minors rather than facing the Rangers was so that manager Bob Melvin and the coaching staff could take a good long look at Billy Buckner, a pitcher on the bubble who will likely start the season in the Triple-A rotation. He could also be a candidate for a long relief role with the D-backs or a slot in the rotation, if injuries create a vacancy at any point.

It was Buckner's first start in the Cactus League and his sixth appearance, and he gave up five runs in four innings on four hits, two walks, and a hit batsman while striking out two. He elevated his spring ERA to 7.62.

"He knows the spot he was in -- he gets to start in the big game, we send Webby over there, we're taking a little harder look at him," Melvin explained. "It wasn't his best results, but it gave us a clearer look at him. He's got some weapons. He's got a real good curveball. He was burned on the changeup again, which I think is going to be a good pitch for him. He's going to have to mix his pitches up when he falls behind and gets a little more predictable. Maybe he doesn't quite have the fastball to get away with it when he's behind, but he has a lot of his secondary pitches that he can throw for strikes as well."

The three late-inning relievers also pitched against the Rangers, with Brandon Lyon and Tony Pena each throwing scoreless innings while Chad Qualls let in a couple runs (one earned) in his inning of work. After giving up a leadoff single, a walk, and a two-run double to Josh Hamilton, who advanced to third on an error on the play, Qualls was able to strand Hamilton while getting three groundball outs.

"As good a spring as Qualls has had, it was kind of nice to see him get some guys on there and bring the infield in and make that sinker of his play," Melvin said. "That's the kind of thing that we expect out of him when there's runners on base. That's the guy you want in there to get the ball on the ground."

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